This week in digital warfare

US Air Force Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) 'Beast of Khandahar'. (james_gordon_los_angeles/Flickr)

A few days ago I was musing about the potential of digital technologies to enable cross-cultural dialogue and lead a global shift in changing how information is created, organized and shared. With the technology becoming increasingly non-hierarchical, there is a surge in multiple voices being amplified through social and digital media. This cacophony could be positive in promoting peace, but at the same time these technologies are being used by those who continue to believe in the power of aggression. Some of the war related news this week has a heavy focus on technology which reveals how technology has become an integral aspect in modern-day conflicts.

Iran Cracks US Stealth Spy Drone’s Secrets, Shows Proof – Gizmodo
Iran claims to have cracked the code on American stealth spy drone RQ-170 Sentinel that the NATO forces lost control of over Iranian territory last December. As proof, General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards presented some of the flight records of the drone from 2010. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta dismissed Iran’s claims saying that, “Based on my experience I would seriously question their ability to do what they say they’ve done”. There is a possibility that Iran might be overstating it’s ability to crack extensive U.S. military codes as part of leverage in talks about Iran’s nuclear program. However, if the Iranians are actually capable of decoding U.S. military technology, that’s just a whole new chapter in cyber warfare with hazardous consequences that falls outside of international legal order.

Facing Cyberattack, Iranian Officials Disconnect Some Oil Terminals From Internet – The New York Times
The cyber attack seems to have effected only the Oil Ministry’s headquarters and not the oil infrastructure itself.  The Iranian officials played down the threat by claiming no significant damage was done to oil production with minimal data loss. The cyber attack could be part of a strategy to increase pressure on Iran for the upcoming nuclear talks, at the same time, Iran’s energy sector has reportedly been facing an increasing number of cyber attacks in recent years. The Iranian authorities, on the other hand, could have deliberately released information about this most recent cyber attack as a sign of resilience against such tactics.
meanwhile, U.S. tech firms help authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere help censorship. not sure how Obama’s new sanctions will impact American firms.

US Targets IT In New Iran, Syria Sanctions – The Wall Street Journal
On Monday, President Obama signed an Executive Order to authorize sanctions on entities using information and communication technologies for committing human rights abuses in collaboration with the Iranian and Syrian regimes. The fact sheet accompanying the Executive Order outlines that, restrictions will apply to those who “have sold, leased, or otherwise provided, directly or indirectly, goods, services, or technology to Iran or Syria likely to be used to facilitate computer or network disruption, monitoring or tracking that could assist in or enable serious human rights abuses by or on behalf of the Government of Iran or the Government of Syria”. Meanwhile, some U.S. firms are implicated in providing technology to authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and North Africa for censoring political and social content and from this Executive Order it is not clear if the sanctions will apply to the U.S. firms as well. The U.S. government has to consider that technology sanctions will be effective only if applied uniformly to all entities whether they are based in Syria and Iran or in the West.


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