25 November 2021


Maj Gen P K Mallick, VSM (Retd)

Microsoft released its second annual Digital Defense Report, covering July 2020 to June 2021. This year s 134 pages report is quite detailed, with sections on cybercrime, nationstate threats, supply-chain attacks and Internet of Things attacks. The report includes security suggestions for organizations with remote workforces. It has a section describing the use of social media to spread disinformation. The report is a compilation of integrated data and actionable insights from across 

Cyber Weapons – A Weapon of War?

 Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)

The character of warfare has changed fundamentally over the last decade. In the past, it was essential for an adversary nation or insurgent to physically bring weapons to bear during combat. That requirement is no longer a necessity. In cyber operations, the only weapons that need to be used are bits and bytes. In this new era of warfare, logistics issues that often restrict and limit conventional warfare and weaponry are not impediments. This new weaponry moves at the speed of light, is available to every human on the planet and can be as surgical as a scalpel or as devastating as a nuclear bomb.

Cyber attacks in various forms have become a global problem. Cyber weapons are low-cost, low-risk, highly effective and easily deployable globally. This new class of weapons is within reach of many countries, extremist or terrorist groups, non-state actors, and even individuals. Cyber crime organisations are developing cyber weapons effectively. The use of offensive Cyber operations by nation-states directly against another or by co-opting cyber criminals has blurred the line between spies and non-state malicious hackers. New entrants, both nation-states and non-state actors have unmatched espionage and surveillance capabilities with significant capabilities. They are often the forerunners for criminal financial gain, destruction and disruption operations. Progressively, we see non-state actors including commercial entities, developing capabilities that were solely held by a handful of state actors.

Scenarios for Cross-Strait Tensions: An Indian Interest

Megha Pardhi, Suyash Desai, Manoj Kewalramani

Executive Summary
This assessment on tensions between People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan discusses three possible scenarios relevant for Indian policymakers and analysts. The first scenario of status quo between PRC and Taiwan is best suited for India. Maintaining this status quo requires a two-pronged policy of deterring the PRC, while cautiously engaging with Taiwan but also discouraging ambitions for independence. Second, Taiwan declaring independence will change status quo and would destabilise Indo-Pacific. Hence, New Delhi should dissuade Taiwanese officials from moving in the direction of independence. If Taiwan still declares independence, India’s diplomacy should seek to contain escalation. Lastly, if China invades Taiwan, it might result in three distinct potential war scenarios. A decisive PLA campaign that ends with ‘reunification’ and a protracted conflict involving regional and extra-regional powers are not ideal scenarios for Indian interests. A short and indecisive conflict is likely the best-case outcome from an Indian perspective. In this case, New Delhi should ideally join the international community in condemning the PRC’s aggression, while refraining from military signaling.

The Return of the Taliban and the Revival of Jihadist Extremism

Jang Ji-Hyang

The Failure of U.S. State-building and the Fall of Kabul

In August 2021, four months after the United States government announced its plan to withdraw its last troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban seized Kabul and the Afghan government collapsed almost overnight. Twenty years ago, the U.S. started the war in Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban regime, but it failed in its subsequent state-building efforts after the war. The Afghan government, which was backed by the U.S. but lacked legitimacy and capacity, monopolized international aid and formed a huge corruption cartel.

The dramatic fall of the Afghan government was due to widespread corruption and distrust in society. Domestic dissatisfaction had reached a tipping point and explosive internal pressures were barely being contained. In the absence of an accurate reading of public opinion in the opaque Afghan society, the omens of the regime’s downfall were difficult to detect. The sudden collapse shocked the U.S., the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission (RSM), the Afghan government and citizens, and even the Taliban.

Pakistan’s Deal with Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan: Statesmanship or Surrender?

Syed Fazl-e-Haider

On November 1, supporters of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) abandoned their two-week long protests and marched to the Pakistani capital Islamabad after the group signed a deal with the government, whose details were initially kept secret. The deal was facilitated by several religious scholars and leaders of the Barelvi school of Islamic thought, including Mufti Muneebur Rehman, Maulana Adil, and Bashir Qadri. As a result of the deal, the two-week-long impasse between TLP and the Pakistani government ended, and TLP supporters vacated the Grand Trunk Road in Punjab province, which leads to Islamabad (Dawn, November 1).

These events began in October when thousands of TLP supporters in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore in Punjab started marching towards Islamabad to demand the release of the group’s leader, Saad Hussain Rizvi, as well as the expulsion of France’s ambassador in protest of the blasphemous cartoons published by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo in September of last year. At one point, the government had decided to crush the TLP for challenging the writ of the state and demanding the closure of the French embassy in Islamabad and expulsion of the ambassador. After the failures of the police to maintain law and order, the government called in the army and paramilitary forces to stop the thousands of TLP workers marching towards Islamabad. At least seven policemen and dozens of TLP activists lost their lives in the ensuing violent clashes (Dawn, October 28). The government, however, has now suddenly taken a U-turn and reached an agreement with the TLP.

Kissinger doesn’t see China as an immediate military threat to Taiwan


Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said Sunday that even though China continues to covet Taiwan, he doesn’t expect China to launch an invasion of the island.

“I don't expect an all-out attack on Taiwan in, say, a 10-year period, which is as far as I can see,” Kissinger said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.”

Discussing President Joe Biden’s virtual summit last week with President Xi Jinping, Kissinger noted that the situation surrounding Taiwan is one that hadn’t changed much since he and President Richard Nixon established a connection with China in the early 1970s.

“I believe that the ultimate joining of Taiwan and China, the ultimate creation of one China, is the objective of Chinese policy,” Kissinger told Zakaria, “as it has been since the creation of the current regime and that it probably would be in any Chinese government since Taiwan has been considered a historic part of China that was taken away by Japan, by force. That was exactly the situation Nixon and I faced when we first began contact with China.“

U.S.-China Trade Talks Should Prioritize Opening Up China’s Internet

Jianli Yang and Lianchao Han

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping finally held their much-anticipated virtual summit on Monday. After the meeting, intended to normalize relations and establish guardrails for contest, competition, and cooperation between the two world powers, U.S.-China trade talks are likely to resume shortly. In her recent speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai laid out a new trajectory for the Biden administration’s trade policy.

Tai correctly pointed out that China’s state-centered, nonmarket trade practices were not addressed in the Phase One agreement, a trade deal signed by the Trump administration with China in January 2020, and stated that she intends to raise these broader policy concerns with Beijing. She vowed to use “the full range of tools we have … to defend American economic interests from harmful policies and practices.”

But there’s one key unfair practice that stands out and that the Phase One deal didn’t address: China’s internet market. The opening up of China’s internet should be a core component of the Biden administration’s new approach to its trade relationship with China. At present, China’s internet market combines bad trade practices, the harming of U.S. interests, and human rights violations. The United States has some leverage to change that and should use it.

Biden Administration says, 'No Decision' Made on Whether to Tap U.S. Oil Reserves


While President Joe Biden has been expected to announce plans to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as Americans continue dealing with high gas prices, no decision has yet been made.

The United States has been considering eventually releasing more than 35 million barrels, Bloomberg reported. The release could be done along with other countries including India, Japan and South Korea.

In a statement to Newsweek, however, a National Security Council spokesperson said that no decision had been made.

"No decision has been made. I would note that we've been saying for weeks we are talking with other energy consumers to ensure global energy supply and prices do not imperil the global economic recovery. The conversations are ongoing and we consider a range of tools for if and when action is needed," the statement said.

Afghanistan fiasco shows US military encourages lapdog generals, retired colonel says: The Last 96

Ethan Barton 

President Biden’s top military advisers should have predicted Afghanistan’s imminent collapse – and then offered their resignations if the commander in chief refused to modify his withdrawal plans, a former deputy commander told Fox News.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and Central Command head Gen. Kenneth McKenzie had a responsibility to stand firm if they believed the fast-paced troop withdrawal would end in catastrophe, retired Marine Col. Andrew Milburn told Fox News.

"Can you imagine if those three or even two out of three had offered their resignation?" Milburn, a former Special Operations Central deputy commander, said. "You don't think that might have caused the president to think twice?"

He argued that all three are products of a culture the military has fostered that favors leaders who are obedient, rather than principled freethinkers.

US space industry ‘tactically strong’ but lacks long-term investment, study finds


WASHINGTON: The space industrial base is “tactically strong” with high levels of capital investment and innovation, but “strategically shallow” in that a lack of funding from US government agencies, including the Defense Department, puts sustainment of the current boom in question, according to a new study sponsored by the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit.

“While the pace of innovation and investment in the U.S. is at an all-time high, participants cautioned that this will not be sustained without strategic direction, robust adoption of commercial space capabilities expressed in meaningful contract opportunities, strategic workforce development, attention to fragile domestic supply lines, and addressing the anemic funding to prototype, validate and accelerate the adoption of innovative and disruptive space capabilities for national security,” the study finds (emphasis in original) [PDF].

It further suggests that without a strategic shift to make the space economy a top-level government priority the US will lose what the authors paint as a vital race with China.

Biden’s Blunder on Ethiopia

Worku Aberra

The Biden administration claims to oppose dictatorship and to support democracy throughout the world, but in Ethiopia it is supporting an armed insurrection by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) against the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The TPLF, a political group that claims to represent less than 6% of Ethiopia’s population, controlled the Ethiopian army, security apparatus, and the economy for almost three decades from 1991 to 2018. It ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist through a coalition of four ethnic parties it created. Under TPLF rule, Ethiopia was “one of the most inhospitable places in the world, bearing the hallmark of crimes against humanity”, according to Human Rights Watch. Similarly, the UN says “Ethiopia was the second-worst jailer of journalists in Africa” when the TPLF was in power. The Ethiopian people fought for their freedom and finally forced the TPLF to step down in 2018.

When the previous prime minister, who was really a figurehead while the TPLF held real power, resigned in February 2018, amid popular unrest, power struggle ensued within the TPLF-dominated ruling coalition. The TPLF wanted to continue its domination and nominated a surrogate, but representatives of the two largest ethnic groups within the coalition, the Amharas and Oromos, nominated Abiy Ahmed to be the leader of the coalition. He won by a large majority and was elected Prime Minister by parliament in April 2018. The TPLF, fearful that Abiy Ahmed poses a serious threat to is continued domination of Ethiopia’s polity, has opposed him ever since.

THE WAR PARTY: From Bush to Obama, and Trump to Biden, U.S. Militarism Is the Great Unifier

Jeremy Scahill

MANY DEMOCRATS, LIBERALS, traditional conservatives, and even some leftists continue to tell themselves that the election of Joe Biden was the first step toward restoring U.S. standing in the world after the damage caused by Donald Trump. And in a variety of ways — many stylistic and some substantive — that perspective has merit. But when it comes to national security policy, the U.S. has been on a steady, hypermilitarized arc for decades. Taken broadly, U.S. policy has been largely consistent on “national security” and “counterterrorism” matters from 9/11 to the present.

The ascent of the charlatan businessman Trump to the presidency in 2016 was a logical — if somewhat on-the-nose — plot twist in the U.S. imperial saga that managed to distill many truths about this nation into a four-year televised and live-tweeted debacle.

The continued media drumbeat that Trump remains the gravest enduring threat to U.S. democracy is fueled by legitimate concerns over Trump’s frantic efforts to use the office of the presidency to overturn the election results, which came to a head with the violent demonstrations at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. These dangerous actions, taken in concert with ongoing Republican efforts at voter disenfranchisement and the peddling of false conspiracy theories, merit serious concern. The Trumpist movement, especially its members in Congress, poses a clear threat to the democratic process. But even in the face of this threat, the bipartisan imperial consensus was so strong that the Democrats continued to increase Trump’s national security powers throughout his presidency.

Iran is ‘leapfrogging our defenses’ in a cyber war ‘my gut is we lose’: Hacking expert Kevin Mandia

Eric Rosenbaum

  • On Thursday, the U.S. government revealed an indictment of two Iranian hackers for election interference.
  • Kevin Mandia, CEO of Mandiant, says Iran is among the nation-state sponsors of hacking that has improved its cyberattack capabilities in recent years to bypass U.S. defenses.
  • Mandia worries that whether it is Iran, China, Russia or North Korea, the rapid advances made by geopolitical rivals in cyberthreats is leading to a war the U.S. “will lose.”
On Thursday, a federal grand jury indicted two Iranian hackers for election interference that included obtaining confidential voter information from at least one state’s election website for a cyber-based disinformation campaign targeting 100,000 Americans. Earlier this week, the U.S. government warned that Iranian hackers also have been on the ransomware offensive.

To Kevin Mandia, the CEO of cybersecurity firm Mandiant, Iran’s success in the hacking realm is no surprise, as the nation has been upping its cyber-offensive capabilities for years to take advantage of U.S. weaknesses.

What it will take for the U.S. to rival China in tech: Former Defense Sec., CIA Director Leon Panetta

Eric Rosenbaum

  • The U.S. government is considering legislation to increase spending on chip production and technology as part of an effort to rival China, but the outlook remains uncertain.
  • Former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta says the U.S. “is not in a good position” relative to China and its investments in AI, quantum computing, robotics and cyber.
  • Panetta says government dysfunction is a major threat to the U.S. standing on the world stage that can extend the lead China already has in technology.
The U.S. government is considering legislation that would increase domestic semiconductor chip production and boost other technologies seen as key to competition with China. But after passing in the Senate in early summer, the legislation hasn’t passed in the House.

Leon Panetta, former Secretary of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency Director, says lack of investment by the U.S. in technology is a critical national security risk. And there is no time to waste. “We’re not in a good position,” Panetta said at this week’s CNBC Technology Executive Council Summit. “We have to increase investments in technology in order to at least begin to move into a competitive position with China.”

Russia Won’t Let Ukraine Go Without a Fight

Michael Kimmage and Michael Kofman

Ominous signs indicate that Russia may conduct a military offensive in Ukraine as early as the coming winter. Moscow has quietly built up its forces along the Ukrainian border over the past several months, which could be a prelude to a military operation that aims to resolve the political deadlock in Ukraine in its favor. Although Russian President Vladimir Putin may once again be engaging in coercive diplomacy, this time around Moscow may not be bluffing. If no agreement is reached, the conflict may renew on a much larger scale.

Why would Putin risk geopolitical and economic upheaval by reigniting the military confrontation with Ukraine? After all, he has good reason to be invested in the regional status quo. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, walking away with one of the largest land grabs in Europe since World War II. Western sanctions imposed on Russia for its invasion have not bitten particularly hard, and Russia’s macroeconomic situation is stable. Russia also retains a firm hold on the European energy market: the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will cement German dependence on Russian natural gas, marches toward activation despite legal snags. Meanwhile, the United States and Russia are in the midst of strategic stability talks. Putin met with U.S. President Joe Biden in June as part of the effort to build a more predictable relationship between the countries.

Getting to a Sustainable Endgame in Ethiopia Will Be an Uphill Climb

Marine Gassier

As rebel forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the Oromo Liberation Army close in on Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, domestic factions and international mediators are quickly revising their calculations regarding how the war may end and the kind of political order that could emerge in its aftermath.

Earlier this month, almost a year since the conflict began, the TPLF and the OLA announced they were forming an alliance with seven other opposition groups, with the goal of ousting Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed—whether by force or through a negotiated settlement—and installing a transitional government. In light of their recent successes on the battlefield, members of this new coalition may have little inclination to negotiate with the current government

Military Review

The Theater Army and the Consequence of Landpower for the Indo-Pacific

Planning for Culture: Incorporating Cultural Property Protection into a Large-Scale, Multi-Domain Exercise

Russia’s Soft Power Projection in the Middle East

Foreign Area Officers: The Roles of an Indispensable Asset in the Army’s Competition and Allies’ and Partners’ Strategies

Planning to Prevent Genocide: Lemkin’s Warning and Eichmann’s Crimes

Domain Awareness Superiority Is the Future of Military Intelligence

The Levels of War as Levels of Analysis

The Jungle: Thinking About the Division’s Role in Unit Training Management at the 25th Infantry Division

A Value Proposition: Cohort Staff

Striking the Balance between Contiguous and Noncontiguous Areas of Operation at the Division and Corps Levels

Professional Development is about the Profession, Not the Professional

Russia’s China Gamble: Strategic Implications of a Sino-Russian Energy Economy

The German Way of War: A Lesson in Tactical Management

Tribute to Gen. Colin Powell

An Empty Pledge to Protect Rainforests

Muhammed Magassy

This month’s United Nations climate change conference had barely begun when a landmark deal to end and reverse deforestation was announced. More than 100 countries signed on to the “Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use,” a commitment “to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030.”

The world’s largest forest carbon sink, the Congo Basin, was included in the pledge. And a coalition led by Western governments—including the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, and the European Union—announced a $1.5 billion fund to protect the Congo rainforest.

All of this should be great news. But while the political elite at the U.N. conference in Glasgow, Scotland, known as COP26, were making grand gestures to protect precious ecosystems, European, Chinese, and U.S. companies were still busy exploiting the Central African rainforest.

The COP26 deforestation pledge is yet another example of Western disingenuousness: The West is once again taking on the role of “white savior” while ignoring its own complicity in the environmental destruction taking place on African soil.

Interview – Shivshankar Menon

Shivshankar Menon is a Distinguished Fellow at CSEP and a Visiting Professor of International Relations at Ashoka University. His long career in public service spans diplomacy, national security, atomic energy, disarmament policy, and India’s relations with its neighbours and major global powers. Menon served as national security advisor to the Indian Prime Minister from 2010 to 2014, as Foreign Secretary from 2006 to 2009, and as Ambassador and High Commissioner of India to Israel, Sri Lanka, China, and Pakistan from 1995 to 2006. Menon has also served as a member of India’s Atomic Energy Commission and in India’s missions to the International Atomic Energy Agency and to the United Nations. He has been a Distinguished Fellow with Brookings India, a Richard Wilhelm Fellow at the Center for International Studies, MIT, and a Fisher Family Fellow at the Belfer Center, Harvard University. He currently serves as chairman of the advisory board of the Institute of Chinese Studies in New Delhi. He is the author of Choices: Inside the Making of Indian Foreign Policy, published by the Brookings Press and Penguin Random House in 2016. His new book, India and Asian Geopolitics; The Past, Present, was published in 2021. In 2010, he was chosen by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the world’s “Top 100 Global Thinkers.”

The Status of the BRICS, 20 Years Later

William Daldegan and Carlos Eduardo Carvalho

November 30, 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the article that popularized the acronym BRICS. When Jim O’Neill claimed that ‘it is time for the world to build better global economic BRICs’ he referred to Brazil, Russia, India and China as dynamos of global growth for the following decade, potential destinations for international investments, and as a pressure factor for expanding ‘the key body of global economic policy co-ordination’, the G-7. However, two decades later O’Neill (Project Syndicate, 09/16/21) was tough: ‘The bloc’s ongoing failure to develop substantive policies through its annual summitry has become increasingly glaring’. O’Neill pointed out low trade integration, unequal growth, little assertiveness in the face of the international order, a lack of coordination concerning priority issues, and a missed opportunity to form strategic cooperation agreements. And he asked, ‘When is that influence going to show up?’

However, it is possible to assess the BRICS trajectory from another perspective: as an initiative that recognizes the huge differences between its members and is developed according to the resultant possibilities. In September 2021 the BRICS held their 13th consecutive Annual Summit, fifteen years after the first meeting of the original members – Brazil, Russia, India, China, with the subsequent incorporation of South Africa. Each Summit issued a declaration, with positions on topical and global issues. Almost all summits were attended by countries geographically close to the hosting one.

Emerging Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Threats from Europe’s ‘Garage Extremists’

Rueben Dass

In September 2021, a 26-year-old French national, influenced by far-right ideology, was arrested for having successfully manufactured four improvised explosive devices (IEDs) containing uranium in his home (TRIPwire, September 9). Four months earlier, a 16-year-old boy of Syrian origin, who had been radicalized by the jihadist ideology of the Islamic State (IS), was convicted and charged with attempting to carry out an attack in Norway using nicotine poison that he had manufactured in his garage (World Today News, May 27; Norwell, June 30). These two examples highlight the continued threat of so-called ‘garage extremists’, who are lone actors with little to no connection to a wider terrorist network, but are increasingly taking advantage of technological advancements to manufacture homemade chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons.

Technology, Terrorism, and the Online Factor

The most concerning aspect of the French case was the fact that the suspect had purchased uranium dust and other components for the production of the IEDs on the online purchasing platform eBay (Prothero, September 14). He had also learned how to make the bombs through the internet (TRIPwire, September 9). The ease with which he was able to achieve this dangerous feat, while merely sitting in the comfort of his home, was notable.

Cyberwarfare era calls for security rethink: Estonian ex-president

Ahn Sung-mi

The evolution of technologies is changing the character of warfare. In any future war, the battle will be determined long before any bullets are fired or missiles flown. Wars may be won through cyberattacks that crash countries’ networks, causing power outages and severing military communication, says former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

The changing face of war requires countries around the world to “rethink” the entire approach to security and defense, Ilves said during a recent interview with The Korea Herald last week. The former president, who spearheaded the Baltic nation’s digital transformation, was in Seoul to speak at the World Emerging Security Forum, organized by the Foreign Ministry, to discuss global cooperation against new security threats.

Ilves added that from a larger security perspective, the biggest change with digital warfare is that “distance has no meaning.”

“What this development in security policy has done is that it has eliminated geography, which up until now has been the primary concern of security thinking because you had kinetic weapons,” he said. “You knew where weapons were coming from, and you were worried about your neighbors. But now, we have to be worried about everybody.”

How enterprises need to prepare for 'cyberwar' conflicts

Arielle Waldman,

As enterprises become increasingly entangled in nation-state conflicts, they need to bolster defenses as well as navigate the growing number of international rules and regulations.

Tarah Wheeler, infosec expert and fellow at government think tank New America, discussed the future of cyberwar and how companies can defend themselves in the expansive threat landscape during her keynote at the Gartner Security and Risk Management Summit on Thursday. While examining the "global system of interactivity," Wheeler proposed several questions, such as: Where do the international rules for cyberconflicts come from, and how can enterprises contribute?

A problem has arisen with such rules where, for example, both The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have contributed security frameworks for enterprises. Wheeler said the two perspectives are "perpetually clashing and cooperating," which has resulted in a confusing regulatory climate.

Beware the Chinese Ransomware Attack With No Ransom

Tim Culpan

A breach by Chinese hackers of almost a dozen targets in Taiwan looked, on the surface, like just another ransomware attack: infiltrate a network, encrypt a ton of files, lock the owners out of their own systems, and wait to be paid. But this one was different for what it didn’t contain, and portends a type of threat that could stymie attempts by corporate and government leaders to make their computer systems more secure.

Semiconductor maker Powertech Technology Inc., communications provider Chunghwa Telecom Co., plastics conglomerate Formosa Petrochemical Corp. and state-run petroleum company CPC Corp. were among those hit in May 2020 by the Chinese Winnti group. Seven members were indicted by the U.S. last year for a series of attacks that allegedly affected more than 100 high-tech and online gaming companies globally.

Instead of just finding a way into their targets and planting the malicious ColdLock software, which would later encrypt files, the attackers first prioritized the installation of backdoor code that would give them continued access to the chosen computers. That sequence of events was among the clues researchers at CyCraft Technology Corp. in Taipei used to subsequently conclude that these weren’t your run-of-the-mill, profit-seeking hackers.

Cyberwar’s global players—it’s not always Russia or China

Cynthia Brumfield

Over the past year, a string of high-profile cyberattacks coming from Russia and China has galvanized the United States and its western allies into taking swift action to counter the escalating incidents. Consequently, the SolarWinds spyware infiltration, the Microsoft Exchange hack, and ransomware attacks launched by criminal gangs harbored by the Kremlin dominate headlines and drive nation-state cybersecurity responses.

However, it’s not always Russia or China who are dangerous adversaries in the digital realm. Smaller threat groups from India, Iran, Belarus, Latin America, and Israel can hold their own when it comes to disruptive hacking or espionage operations. In addition, alleged “hacktivist” groups and threat actors of indeterminate origin engage in malign activities for often mysterious purposes.

Indian hackers pose as legitimate firms

Cybersecurity, skills gap, and digital transformation: TEC Summit recap

Susan Caminiti

  • The shortage of cyber talent won’t abate if companies don’t address what’s happening at the entry level.
  • We’re starting to see a better coordinated national and international response to cyber attacks, says Kevin Mandia, CEO of Mandiant.
  • The dysfunction in Washington is the biggest threat to our national security, according to speaker Leon Panetta, former Secretary of Defense.

The tech skills gap, digital transformation, cybersecurity, and of course, hybrid work were among the important topics discussed at CNBC’s third annual Technology Executive Council Summit. The invitation-only in-person and virtual event featured discussions on how technology leaders can tackle the critical workforce and tech issues facing companies today.

Perhaps the most continual thread running through all the presentations had to do with employees — where to find the talent needed and how to manage the paradigm shift taking place in the way people want to work.

The US Military Is Getting Ready For Drone Wars

Stavros Atlamazoglou

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, have become one of the weapons most closely associated with the global war on terror.

Hundreds of US drones, also known as remotely piloted aircraft, of various types have spent countless hours tracking terrorists and providing US and coalition troops with early warning.

Drones have also attracted scrutiny for their use in killing enemy fighters with precision strikes — strikes that have often killed innocent civilians as well.

But as the US military prepares for a conflict with countries deemed “peers” or “near-peers” — namely China or Russia — the days of drones dominating the air might be coming to an end.

Steady hands and unblinking eyes

Remotely piloted aircraft are good for three main mission sets: precision strikes, close air support, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR).


Benjamin F. Schumacher, Major, USAF

Over the last two decades, Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) have become an essential component of military airpower in modern “small wars” such as Counterterrorism (CT) and Counterinsurgency (COIN) operations.1 Joint Publication 3-30, Command and Control of Joint Air Operations, defines UAS as a “system whose components include the necessary equipment, network, and personnel to control an unmanned aircraft.”2 The more complex UAS require more integration between functions, services, and organizations to operate effectively.

During the war in Afghanistan, almost all UAS operations were conducted by foreign coalition partners rather than the Afghan Air Force (AAF) or Afghan National Army (ANA). The coalition primarily used complex large frame (Category 4 or 5) UAS such as Predators and Global Hawks. UAS are divided into five categories of size and complexity (Figure 1).3 Although advanced US and allied air forces prefer large UAS, small UAS (sUAS) systems (Categories 1 to 3) have become more prevalent among ground forces and in less-developed countries. Developing countries prefer sUAS for their relative simplicity which makes them easier to train, operate without an airfield, and transport between locations. They are also significantly less expensive than a manned aircraft alternative (usually less than one percent of the unit cost). Recent cases, such as the implementation of the ScanEagle UAS program with the ANA, have demonstrated that effective and independent use of a UAS by Afghan forces is not just a possibility, but already a reality.

Grey zone actors pose threat of cyber Cold War

Rachael Falk

Cyber security reforms, currently before Federal Parliament, are specifically aimed at strengthening the cyber defences of our nation’s critical infrastructure.

Cyber threats are the antithesis of this approach and, while there is an increasing understanding of the vital importance of cyber security, there remains an element of the unknown. Because these threats are intangible, because they cannot be “seen”, they are difficult to measure and countering them often becomes a tick box compliance metric.

That is, of course, until an organisation finds itself in the middle of a cyber emergency. And then it is too late.

Reforms to Australia’s Security of Critical Infrastructure Act 2018, which are currently before Federal Parliament, are specifically aimed at strengthening the cyber defences of our nation’s critical infrastructure and systems of national significance. These changes would see the number of critical infrastructure sectors captured by the Act increase from four to 11, and there will be an onus on business to help carry the load.

Lessons to learn from Russia’s Nudol ASAT test

Brandon W. Kelley and Brian G. Chow

Russia’s generation of a large amount of space debris deserves condemnation from the United States and others. However, we must also understand why Russia did what it did. This event carries two essential lessons for the United States.

First, it is imperative to adopt tailored policies and international legal rules to limit anti-satellite (ASAT) threats, in this case a ban on debris-producing ASAT tests.

Second, the U.S. must make it a priority to understand the perspectives and proactively shape the strategic incentives of other countries. A critical means of effectuating both is for the U.S. to be proactive in systematically identifying and understanding in advance the unique characteristics of each individual ASAT threat vector and the best means of countering it; scenario planning of the kind pioneered by Herman Kahn in the 1950s is likely to be a particularly effective methodology for doing so.

On Nov. 15, Russia conducted its first known exo-atmospheric hit-to-kill test of a ground-launched direct-ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) weapon. This test produced some 1,500 pieces of larger debris, and Gen. James Dickinson, head of U.S. Space Command, noted that it will also “likely generate hundreds of thousands of pieces of smaller orbital debris.” The resultant debris cloud endangered astronauts — including Russian nationals — aboard the International Space Station, and drew immediate and widespread international condemnation. On Nov. 16,, Russia’s Defense Ministry publicly confirmed the ASAT test while denying the evident debris threat. What is going on?