Category Archives: Information Warfare

How a Syrian nuclear facility was destroyed by the Israeli Air Force 7 years ago today

On Sept. 6, 2007 the Israeli Air Force (IAF) conducted a precision air strike, code-named Operation Orchard, against a Syrian nuclear installation.

Even if Israel has never publicly admitted that some of its aircraft destroyed the facility, some details about the mission have been either disclosed or leaked throughout the years.

Some of them are well described in the book The Sword of David – The Israeli Air Force at War, written by Donald McCarthy.

According to McCarthy, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1964 to 1968 before becoming a respected and well informed historian, the information for Operation Orchard is alleged to have come from Ali Reza Asgari, an Iranian general disappeared in February 2007, who may have been the source of the intelligence required by the Syrian nuclear site attack.

After gathering the required details, the Israelis planned a secret mission that was launched on Sept. 6 2007, at night.

At least a four F-16I Sufa (Storm) jets and another four F-15I Ra’am (Thunder) aircraft crossed the Syrian border, in bound to the nuclear plant located near the city of Dir A-Zur, in eastern Syria.

McCarthy points out the fact that Syria as well as other Arab countries were equipped with advanced Russian air defense systems, such as the Pantsir-S1 (SA-22 Greyhound as reported by NATO designation), claimed to be immune to electronic jamming. At the time of Operation Orchard, Syria operated twenty nine of these advanced air defense systems, so it remains unclear how the IAF aircraft flew undetected into the night sky out over the Mediterranean Sea, across the Euphrates River and along their route to the nuclear facility.

As explained by McCarthy, according to the most widely accepted theory the strike force included one or more Gulfstream G550 aircraft, equipped with the IAI Elta EL/W-2085 radar system.

Indeed, the success of the operation was largely attributed to effectiveness of the Israeli Electronic Warfare platforms that supported the air strike and made the Syrian radars blind: some sources believe that Operation Orchard saw the baptism of fire of the Suter airborne network system against Syrian radar systems.

This system, combined with the F-15Is electronic warfare capabilities, shut down Syrian air defense systems, providing the other airplanes the cover they needed to hit and destroy the Dir A-Zur nuclear plant.

F-15I Orchard

After the attack, the initial reports stated that the IAF aircraft had almost entirely destroyed the nuclear site, claims that were also confirmed by the comparison of pre and post-attack satellite imagery.

Even if the incident was shrouded in secrecy, Turkish media outlets reported that external fuel tanks were found on the ground not far away from the Syrian border: as reported by Shlomo Aloni & Zvi Avidror in their book Hammers Israel’s Long-Range Heavy Bomber Arm: The Story of 69 Squadron, these external fuel tanks were identified by foreign press as belonging to F-15 aircraft.

Operation Orchard showed the capabilities of the Israeli Air Force, capabilities that were most probably used to carry out an air strike on a weapons convoy and military complex near Damascus, at the beginning of 2013. As done in 2007, on the night between Jan. 29 and 30, 2013, Israeli bombers entered and egressed the Syrian airspace almost completely undetected by the Syrian air defenses: a sign that Syrian radars can do nothing against Israel’s Electronic Warfare systems, most probably further improved to embed the capability to inject malware from F-16s into enemy networks.

Image credit: IAF

 

You can track the first helium balloons of Google Project Loon’s aerial wireless network

Helium balloons of the future network that should give Internet to everyone in the world fortunately use ADS-B.

If you point your browser to Flightradar24.com and zoom off the coast of New Zealand, you’ll see 7 slow moving aircraft: these are actually helium balloons, part of Google’s Project Loon, broadcasting their position, speed, altitude etc. via Mode-S ADS-B.

Project Loon is a research and development project whose aim is to provide Internet access to everyone, even if they live in rural and remote areas. The project features high-altitude balloons, made from sheets of polyethiylene plastic and measuring 15×12 meters,  placed in the stratosphere at an altitude of about 20 mi (32 km) with the purpose of crating an aerial wireless network with up to 3G-like speeds.

The helium balloons are all “floating” around 1,000 feet to the southeast of New Zealand, and a probably involved in a testing campaign; after the trial (kicked off in June 2013) Google hopes to launch thousands of balloons around Earth to provide global Internet access.

In the wake of Snowden scandal, someone said that the purpose of the project may not be philantropic and the task of the network of balloons would be global communications monitoring. But this is another story.

Top: Flightradar24.com screenshot

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Cyber Threats debut on the flightline at Nellis Air Force Base’s Red Flag

Maintainers counter cyber threats for first time at Nellis’s Red Flag

“Train as you fight, fight as you train” has always been Red Flag‘s motto.

U.S. Air Force’s main exercise has to prepare aircrew and support personnel to fight modern war. In the air, on the ground, over the sea and in the cyberspace.

For the first time, the recent Red Flag 14-1 at Nellis Air Force Base featured a “contested, degraded or operationally limited” environment, or CDO, for maintainers, who were trained to cope with cyber vulnerabilities in the systems they use on the flightline.

Ground personnel are always using  computers and brand new technologies that may be targeted by cyber attacks launched by tech-savvy adversaries: laptop used for aircraft maintainance and diagnosis, GPS systems, communication and network equipment are all high-value targets for enemy hacking teams. That’s why Red Flag maintainers receive academics on cyber vulnerabilities, information operations and other CDO-related threats.

Hence, along with “kinetic operations” conducted by fighter jets, attack planes and strategic bombers that must dominate a contested airspace or battlefield, a simulated “non-kinetic” war is fought by Red Flag participants to defend their critical systems from attacks coming from the cyberspace; attacks that may be as devastating as those using bullets, bombs and missiles.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

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This Map shows all Distributed Denial Of Service attacks worldwide, in real time

Even wondered what countries are under cyberattack right now?

Google may have the answer for you. By teaming up with Arbor Networks, Google Ideas team has created a visualisation of all the distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks around the world.

DDoS are among the most common, effective and hard to face attacks websites can suffer. They are launched using so-called botnets of hijacked computers that are simultaneously instructed to connect to a particular website thus consuming all the available bandwidth or the web server’s resources, slowing the site down significantly or taking it offline.

DDoS have become the tools used by hacktivists and attackers driven by political reasons to hit websites of organizations they dislike: a way to digitally silence those organizations.

Even though it can’t bring down the enemy’s military forces, or a whole society’s infrastructure, considered the effect it can have on a specific company, agency or service, a DDoS attack is one of the tools in the hands of cyber army teams around the world to wage, if not a full scale cyberwar (that would rely on APTs and multiple kinds of attacks), at least cyberguerrilla operations.

For instance, the Syrian Electronic Army, a collection of pro-government computer hackers aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has used DDoS attacks to target media organization websites in their attempt to support the Syrian regime.

Anyway, the new tool, Digital Attack Map, gives a clear idea of what is happening in the cyberspace, and lets you look back through at historic attacks, source and destination ports used in the attacks, and select specific countries.

 

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A Cyber attack by Syrian Electronic Army may be Assad’s most dangerous reaction to U.S. air strikes

Considered the current status of the Syrian military, whose capabilities have been consumed by a couple of years of war against the rebels of the Free Syrian Army, a series of cyber attacks by the Syrian Electronic Army is the most serious answer the U.S. can expect from Damascus following an attack on Assad’s Chemical Warfare arsenal.

According to Wikipedia:

“The Syrian Electronic Army, also known as the Syrian Electronic Soldiers, is a collection of pro-government computer hackers aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Using denial of service attacks, defacement, and other methods, it mainly targets political opposition groups and western websites, including news organizations and human rights groups. The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) is the first public, virtual army in the Arab world to openly launch cyber attacks on its opponents, though the precise nature of its relationship with the Syrian government is debated.”

Hackmageddon.com Editor Paolo Passeri (@paulsparrows) explains:

“The SEA is not an Advanced Persistent Threat as we know it. Their attacks are limited, not persistent nor advanced.

They usually conduct social engineering attacks against media with the aim to spread their propaganda messages using compromised Twitter accounts or defaced websites. They send spear phishing emails to their targets in order to get the user credentials needed to get into the accounts and post their messages.

Most of times, once compromised, the targeted media disclosed the (successful) attack describing the hack with specific blog posts, like done by The Onion and Outbrain.”

Hackmageddon.com was one of the first ICT security-focused blogs to follow SEA’s activities and record all their hacks in its attack timelines.

In the last hours SEA attacked NYTimes.com (the media outlet had its DNS redirected to a page displaying the “Hacked by SEA” message) whereas Twitter’s domain registrar was changed.

Since they are a loose-knit hacker group loyal to Assad, SEA are likely to react to the air strikes that are about to pound Syria. Even if their assault will be not-persistent, not-advanced it could still cause some pain. If not to Obama or the Pentagon, to one of the media outlets that will be reporting about the U.S. air campaign in Syria.

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