World War 2020 – The Kind War

Introduction to the New Age of Warfare

It was in Amsterdam 1993 when presenting a paper at the Virus Bulletin 93 Conference, subject – bypassing anti-virus scanners. It was there in the luxurious Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky

where I was baptised by Winn Schwartau to a topic which caught my imagination – that topic was ‘Cyber War’. I admit at that time the general opinion of the delegates seemed to be that of rejection of any such concept of adverse cyber-condition could ever materialise with any real-world effect! However, I was consumed by the words delivered by what I saw (see) as a thought leader who was (is) prepared to stand up and tell of what was not in the public domain. From that day hence, I became a disciple of the message, and commenced on a long road which is now approaching a 30 year juncture of reading, conducting research, writing and presenting on this topic at every opportunity – granted along the way, as with Winn, my words have on occasion met rejection and disbelief.

The Game Changer – coronavirus

In this year of 2020 we have seen the arrival of the pandemic in the guise of the coronavirus, and the associated impacting consequence of COVID-19 taking its toll on global societies, human lives, mental stress and illness, and the devastating impact this Chinese bio-export has had on the global economy, not forgetting the mountainous death toll it has created – as has been already commented on a number of occasions, this is unrepresented! As I have written before, the jury is still out on just how the coronavirus pandemic really happened, and what it was born out of, but it would seem there are more snippets of evidence entering the public domain giving an inclination as to the bio’s origination. At Fig 1 below an image showing the Biological Engineering Department situated in Wuhan – you decide!

Fig 1 – Biological Engineering Department Wuhan


Winning the Battle at All Levels

Casting my mind back to my days of Military Service and Training in the world of Counter Intelligence, I recall the teaching that, to win a war is not only about bloodshed, bullets and bombs, but it also about leveraging the delivery of the subliminal to win over the minds of the targeted public – in other words, if you can break their will, direct or confuse their thinking and above all damage the buoyancy of the overall state of morale (say with an event such as COVID-19), you are to some considerable effect investing a credible strike in the overall theatre of the public confidence; or for that matter in the theatre warfare – and it is here where I consider the current state of the global fight against the coronavirus as the new era 2020 Global Warfare arriving with visibility in many forms. 

Note: For this reason, in the proactive, it is why I see OSINT and such tools as SMAT (Social Media Analysis Toolkit) as shown at Fig 2 as worth adding to the Toolkit to confirm the credibility and reliability and provenance of published articles flouting onto the Internet, and to act as a digital defence tool to discover what is not obvious.

Fig 2 – SMAT

Historic Creativity

Over the long months of this extended pandemic lockdown, I have had time to ramp up my research and have gone back to some basics in the past age of the kinetic destructive creations of war. Reading up on the  Atom Bomb from the Richard Rhodes book, ‘The Making of the Atom Bomb’, the Manhattan Project, the papers and thoughts of Oppenheimer, Rutherford, Geiger, Marsden, Albert Einstein, the Periodic Table element U, and what it brought to the world as a destructive opportunity. There are of course too many to mention in this field of creativity, some of which are in the form of mass destructive devices in the guise of battle tools like Fat Man – but I do hope you get my drift as to what were considered effective and valued tools of past global powers. I have also embraced and researched the modern day concepts of war without bloodshed, electromagnetic and physics based warfare, and that of Feiziran Kongjian presenting the prospect of fighting an unseen digital-war in unseen spaces, in the macroscopicmicroscopic battlefield. I have looked at the works of  Norbert Wieners book ‘Cybernetics’ and the world of kinder weaponry and new military tactical thinking. Here, one very simple element in this area was that of replacing of the 7.62 L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle (SLR), with the much kinder 5.56 calibre Heckler & Koch SA80/A2 rifle – kinder in that, whilst the tumbling round of the SLR could take a man’s leg off at range with a high degree of a fatal consequence, the kinder SA80/A2 would be more likely to cause injury, thus consuming the enemies manpower and resources to care for the injured!

High-Technology

There is now a very strong, growing military recognition that new-age wars which will be (are) engaged will look very different in the future landscape of an H. G. Wells style world. This is possibly why the manpower of armies are being reduced in favour of the advantages of High-Technology which represents the futuristic pawn on the chess board of the battlefield. My own experience with such High-Technology goes back to working within the world of COMINT/SIGINT (Signals intelligence – AKA gathering by interception), Satellite Communications and Orange Book classified BI Multi-National computer systems developed out of relationships with the US in Washington DC, and here in the UK within a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility) environments. One such project was, in its day was referred to as Project Medusa, AKA Sentinel (See Fig 3). Sentinel is one of those kinder tools which maximises on the use of High-Technology across multiple platforms, ranging from ground to air communications, and linking in with other remote air and ground stations, such as NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) located in Cheyenne Mountain (where I have been privileged to visit), to the other side of the globe in the APAC (Asia Pacific) region. Kinder because the accuracy of pin-pointing a target can have the beneficial effect of reducing collateral damage, and thus a reduction in lost lives and casualties. 

As a bit of fun here, if anyone ever claims to have been in the NORAD Cheyenne Mountain complex, just ask them why there is a yellow rubber duck floating on the underground lake – if they have been there, they will immediately know the answer :). 

Fig  3 – Sentinel

Playing Cricket

There is of course the argument that the world’s leading nations are more likely to play by the rules, whilst those climbing the slippery pole to a desired position of domination (e.g. North Korea and China here would seem to be in that category) may not be battle-friendly with the application of the rules of engagement. Thus, such miscreant nations may, shall we say be more prone to fiddling with the cricket ball to give them a flying advantage in whatever form it takes. This again can be understood from the Chinese PLA (People Liberation Army) publication Unrestricted Warfare which is introduced in the next paragraph which suggest whatever the means will justify the end goal.

Unrestricted Warfare

With so much forced time on my hands, I then went on to again read (for the fourth time) the text originated by Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui in the form of their publication ‘Unrestricted Warfare’ (See image at Fig 4). The more I read their words and thoughts with comparison to what we see today in plain-sight, the more I am convinced that we are at the leading edge of globalised war without weapons, or conventional bloodshed – this is the War of 2020 which is based on attacking the very fabric of societies, and their economies, and is a mission carried out for the attainment of global dominance. And this I believe is the first visible bleeding-edge onslaught of such real-world tactics to be encountered. This is possibly why the U.S. State Department revealed in September 2020 that over the past three months, they have expelled more than a thousand Chinese high-risk graduate students and research scholars who were working at American universities. However, the individuals whose visas have been revoked represent only a small fraction of the 370,000 Chinese nationals studying in the U.S. — a big escalation in Washington’s conflict with China over the control of the world’s most coveted technologies. That said, Washington are not alone in suggesting that the Chinese military has encouraged, or even enlisted academics to collaborate with counterparts in the West, in person, via a third party, or remotely, while masking their affiliations with the People’s Liberation Army [PLA] or its institutes of learning, such as the National University of Defence Technology. 

It was also published in September 2020 that the Canadian Commons Committee on Canada-China Relations heard similar allegations through testimonies in the weeks leading up to prorogation — including the claim that some of the core technology behind China’s surveillance network was actually developed in Canadian universities. I of course am unsure as to depth of such allegations  however – some eight years ago I recall having a conversation with a Dean of a University Technology Department who told me that they had had an International Student from Beijing who had been working on a high value piece of research who, after attaining their degree had left the university to return to their homeland. The problem was, parts of the research could not be located, and so the department attempted to contact with said postgraduate student who seemed to have vanished into thin air. The only connection that was ever discovered was out of a patent which had been lodged in the US under the name of a Chinese organisation for a strikingly similar piece of cutting-edge technology! 

Fig  4 – Unrestricted Warfare

Misinformation and a Tool

Out of such Russian groups as Fancy Bear (APT28 – Unit 26165 and Unit  74455) who have tenuous links to Russian Military Intelligence, AKA the GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate) we are now also seeing the use of Information Warfare enter the public arena and the theatre of war with some effect manifesting in an age of on-mass misinformation which can go a long way to bending the mind of the reader, affecting the direction and decision making process of the listening, voting vox-populous on such critical matters as say, the election of a President or Prime Minister, right up to implicating global trade by misinforming on events such a Brexit. And on the topic of Brexit, not forgetting that the Brexit Party accepted funding from and agent who has links back to high office in Russia. Now associate this level of soft (kind) manipulation of disinformation with those holding government posts in the UK who have strong relationships with Russian oligarchs, and other such acceptable insurgents – who in turn are linked far up the chain to Vladimir Putin. In my opinion we should be getting very worried indeed. Such associations as these pose dangers to the ordinary people of the global village, with a side-product which will no doubt make the Chinese beneficiaries.

The Terrorist Threat

The new age of the terrorist threat is one of the most unpredictable and poses the unknown facet of war we face on the battleground of radical instability and internal security, conjoined to the employment of digital tools for their own adverse purpose, and of course radicalisation and recruitment. Here the world is facing hidden pockets of aggressors in just about every global location, and all with one objective in mind – to promote their own version of the truth based on beliefs founded on religion or some long distant mantra. These groups are also members of a communities who are fighting a cause based on ideology, so their minds are set with intransigence. Given the recent attacks with a mounting, tragic death toll of innocents the world has seen, we may conclude here that such internal insurgent threats as these are possibly one of the most dangerous we face, as they exist within the very fabric of our everyday lives, and have the ability to strike at any soft target they select to focus their cross-hair on. 

As a side comment here, our greatest tool to fight this internal threat is public awareness and reporting on suspicious activity at the following MI5 URL: 

https://www.gov.uk/report-suspicious-activity-to-mi5

Trade Warfare

The problem with this stylisation of kind attack is of course, Trade Warfare is discreet and can be carried out surreptitiously in front of our very eyes. Say by dumping goods on the global markets (e.g. Steel – See Fig 5) at ridiculously low prices, to force a price-crash of a currency or stock, or even as an indirect tool to create unemployment; or say by creating an economic condition in which a country starts to export its trade in the form of outsourcing into a region like China – adding to their economy, whilst taking away from the contracting companies own employment potential, with again, the potential side effect of unemployment and a further add to the profile of trade deficits – just think about this simple scenario in the context of global dominance. As an example, one High Street Manufacturer of soft furnishings who has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic has decided to now outsource their manufacturing operations to ‘China’. It would seem the Chinese economic plans here are proving to be very successful, as in some such cases companies are playing into their awaiting outstretched palms! 

Fig  5 – Steel Dumping

Fiscal Tools

One of the most powerful weapons in the armoury of the new age of warfare is that of the Fiscal Munition. As introduced above, if part of the end game is to break the morale of the people, and to cause unrest, as was seen in Argentina Monetary Crisis in 2018. In this case the South American domicile encountered the severe devaluation of the Argentinian Peso, driven by high inflation (at 25% in 2017) along with an unfortunate increase in the price of the USD on local markets. As a result, the presidency of Mauricio Macri requested a loan from the IMF (International Monetary Fund). The real time impact of this siltation however could be seen on the streets, ‘where real people’ were attempting to gain access to their own money causing a run on the banks – adding to the problem – and thus overspilling with unrest at street level – in a warfare scenario this would be an ideal by-product to underpin the interests of the campaign. There have also been other cyber-attacks on a countries infrastructure which implicated ATM’s, denying the user public access to ‘their’ funds. One example of which is that of attacks on the Ukrainian banking facilities. 

A focus on the current days global power struggles, one only may cast an eye toward the Fiscal War between the US and Hong Kong (China) in the profile of the HSBC case. Here, HSBC being a big player in the global dollar clearing market could be on the Chinese Blacklist as an Unreliable Entity who, in Chinas opinion may seek to endanger their national sovereignty – which according to the Beijing Ministry of Commerce could actually be a shot in their own Chinese foot, and also spoil the HSBC aspirations to capitalise on Chinas fledgling wealth market and their rising middle classes. As a consequence, and yet another live example of the power of Fiscal tools, and the resulting media storm, shares in HSBC dropped to 305p 298.50p representing a total value of £58bn – here we see China stretching its blacklist muscle with a geopolitical grip on corporate valuations.

Be in no doubt that those big players within the world of high finance, such as the Bank of England and Moody’s can have a very strategic and tactical part to play on the world stage of financial manipulation. Thus, they should not be considered just financial agents in the new age of Warfare – they also represent powerful munition capabilities, and when aligned to other digital technological aggressors can manifest in skirmishes with underpin powerful fiscal allies of adversity.  

Cyber Challenge Failings

Some years ago, a McAfee Chief Security Scientist made the deluded statement on UK TV that we (the good folk) were winning the Cyber War – however, nothing could have been, and is further from the truth, as vulnerabilities and exposures arrive in multiple forms on an almost daily basis. Given the new age of threats, linked to, what would seem to be an almost complete and growing dependency on technology and the Internet, one of the first areas we must address is for those in the Cyber Defence Industry to redefine what ‘Cyber’ Security actually is, and to identify the new age cornerstones of continuous APT (Active Persistent Threats) defence – and to start to think with a  different mindset as to how we defend homeland, and international electronic boarders. However, to date the approach taken up to 2020 would seem to have proven to be deeply flawed insofar as it has placed too much faith in those commercial products that are touted every year at the Infosecurity (Infoinsecurity) Show as silver bullet solutions, when in fact we should be seeking to load bullets made if titanium. Is it that we have moved far away from the back-to-basics skills of, what we used to refer to as IT Security, and have tripped into a world of tick-box security – which satisfies the auditors, but not the end goal of a robust defensive solution. Or is it, as has been proven by research conducted by a London based organisation under the thought leadership of their CEO Andrew Jenkinson with their WHITETHORN leading edge systems, who have discovered multiples of insecure, vulnerable DNS profiles at some of the biggest names in UK and Internationals, including Commercials and Governments alike. However, what is even more worrying is that even when such significant exposures are notified to the system owners and CISO’s they are not addressed, leaving the exposures extant to the prospect of exploitation! Or, based on these finding, is it that the role of CISO, who by one author has been labelled a ‘Defender of the Realm’, when in fact, in a number of cases the title of CISO has become a comfortable, political seat of flagging power who tout the title as a badge as if it represented all-encompassing knowledge. Or, last but not least, have we fallen on our own sword by thinking that, those multiples (and I mean multiples) of achieved Certifications amount to real value knowledge in all cases – notwithstanding some have been forced via brain-dump by a Boot-Camp diluted indoctrination process of a Tick-Box based overlay of knowledge (lower case ‘k’). 

As CESG commented in the mid-eighties when I raised personally concern about the then new Computer Viruses were seeing in the wild –  the response was ‘CESG see these as a passing nuisance!

or

As a lady from CPNI (Critical National Infrastructure) commented to me some 8/9 years ago ‘The Cyber Threat is the product of people like myself who spread fear and doubt’ – really!

We need to rethink, redefine, and our approach based on not leveraging Imagination is the Limitation, but a completely new way with Out-of-the-Box thinking.

Hearts, Minds and PSYOPS

Whilst there is nothing new (See Fig 6), the leverage of information, and the potential for manipulation of psychology has been proven to be a valuable, subliminal combatant mechanism on many stages, ranging from support of operational theatres of war (e.g. The Gulf War) where information was exploited as a contributory factor to enhance the end-game goal – to induce or reinforce behaviour, favourable to the information propagator. Known as PSYOPS (Psychological Operations) such Information Warfare capabilities represent an important component in the artillery of diplomatic, military, and economic activities available to the end user country (or individual). They represent operational tools which may be utilized both in times of peace and in times of conflict alike. Maybe to undermine the popularity of a political personality; or to encourage the growth of popular discontent with the opposition’s leadership through the use of combining persuasion with say credible threats, to degrade an adversary’s ability to conduct or sustain military operations or position. Such techniques may also be employed to disrupt, confuse, and protract the adversary’s decision-making process, undermining their command and control. When properly employed, PSYOPS have the kindly potential to save the lives of both friendly and/or enemy forces by reducing the adversary’s will to fight by lowering morale and then efficiency (making PSYOPS kind-weapons by inference). But don’t be fooled by thinking that such deep-minded techniques may only be employed by Government or by Military Commanders – with a little imagination they can have equally weighted usefulness (or dangers) within any commercial ambition who can apply a deeper methodology of thinking in the subtleties of Neuro conversion!

As a closing observation on this subject, on 27th September 2020 the Sunday Times ran an article in its magazine entitled ‘Outsmarted by our Smartphones’ (AKA Bow Down Before Me). The article written by John Lanchester covered the power of the mobile phone, and its power to deliver knowledge of cognition and psychology to exploit the user’s psychosocial vulnerabilities (or possibly exposures though what I call opinion manipulation). As Arthur C. Clarke once commented “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, and here nothing exemplifies the mobile phones more on which the end user, potential target spends an average of three hours a day to interact with external communications – thus, this magical device represents a positive window into the world of knowledge, and the platform through which fake news may be communicated with some effect. 

Fig  6 – Psychological Warfare – Nothing New

Conclusion

It may be hard to accept, but from biological-infections, the use of fake news, information warfare, cyber-attacks, through to the employment of fiscal tools, in this year of 2020 for the first time the world has seen the visible, bleeding edge of a new-age of warfare occurring every day in front of our very eyes. Nobody dies of a direct consequence, as this is kind warfare in which the casualties are of an indirect making. No bloodshed occurs in the old image of stylised warfare – these are kinder times, in which the use of the insurance policy associated with Nuclear Weapons is now accepted to be that of an instrument of assurance only, on which the weapon owners do not wish to cash in its street value in operational terms (discounting and fundamentalist group who don’t play by other rules). We are living in a world which for multiple decades has been infiltrated by the doctrines and ambitions of government such as China, Russia, and other smaller, wild-card players such as North Korea who are hell bent on some form of global domination – bodies which have established covert wings of operational, kind subliminal missions such as Fancy Bear who manipulate the truth and flood the Social Media Channels with their adjusted facts to produce and end product that meets the political expectation of the kind-attacker. In our World War of 2020 we are encountering large scale soft-belly businesses who spend a fortune on Cyber Security who are breached on an almost daily basis, whilst they deliver trade over what is, the insecure, softly governed environment of the internet. And to make matters worse, we here from the big name providers of security tools and applications with their snake-oil spin that we are winning the war against the cybercriminal and terrorist, whilst the truth is – nothing could be further from the truth! 

As a side, it may be that we look on with wonderment as we see the likes of one Baroness who drastically failed with devastating effect with her previous role at Talk Talk overseeing the COVID dismal Track-and-Trace operation, which again is associated with failure. Or when we watch the presidential exchange between President Trump and Biden, has anyone noticed that their attack platforms would seem to be only based on pointing out the others inferred past criminality, tax avoidance – and in the case the Biden Camp, Hunter Biden’s ties with a corrupt Ukraine based gas company from which he has received $50,000 per month – how can this be in a Western Democracy? The question is, what do we believe in the daylight when we are being told that everything is Fake News? 

The future of the world has entered a phase in which it will transgress into a new era which would sit very comfortably in the writings of H. G. Wells, or Arthur C. Clarke, and not forgetting Michael Dobb’s  – the problem is, it is happening on such a subliminal, undercover platform, like all things technologically based, as time has proven, we only see it when it’s too late.   

To close, as Michael Dobb’s stated in his fictional book ‘The Edge of Madness’ – “War without weapons, only victims. Millions of them”.

Professor John Walker
john_walkerVisiting Professor at the School of Science and Technology at Nottingham Trent University (NTU), Visiting Professor/Lecturer at the University of Slavonia [to 2015], Independent Consultant, Practicing Expert Witness, ENISA CEI Listed Expert, Editorial Member of the Cyber Security Research Institute (CRSI), Fellow of the British Computer Society (BCS), Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts (RSA), Board Advisor to the Digital Trust, Writer for SC Magazine UK, Originator of DarkWeb Threat Intelligence, CSIRT, Attack Remediation and Cyber Training Service/Platform, Accreditation Assessor and Academic Practitioner and Accredited Advisor to the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences in the area of Digital/Cyber Forensics.

Twitter: @SBLTD 

John Walker is also our Expert Panel member.  To find out more about our panel members visit the biographies page.

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