Cybersecurity required to prevent ‘war games’

April 27, 2018
by Mark Ollig

“A newly-developed computer communications network may revolutionize the future.”

This quote is from an article headlined “Computer Net For The Average Citizen” in the Jan. 12, 1973, issue of the San Rafael, CA, Daily Independent-Journal.

The article’s reference to a “computer communications network” was the Arpanet, which is today known as the Internet.

“Many people are concerned about the threat these systems may present to security and individual privacy. But those working on Arpanet feel these problems can be solved, and the solutions may not be very expensive,” wrote David F. Salisbury, the columnist for the 1973 article.

And so here we are, 45 years later, and those folks who expressed concern about online security back in 1973, were correct.

Contrary to the thinking in 1973, today’s cybersecurity solutions are costly, and usually temporary; requiring regular security updates to maintain protection against unauthorized access to computer systems and their databases.

The federal government is acutely aware it’s fighting a continuous cyberwar with computer hackers, adversaries, and “bad actors” who attempt to compromise the security of our government networks, military databases, power and communication utilities, transportation network, businesses, banking institutions, and individual privacy.

Internet of Things (IoT) cybersecurity also needs to be taken into consideration.

The growing number of new, smart IoT electronic devices in our homes and businesses connected to the internet directly, or via Wi-Fi, are vulnerable to being hacked into, and their intended purposes compromised.

Cyberwar is a real battle being waged against us on a daily basis.

The good news is we are fighting back.

The 2019 presidential budget includes $15 billion in funding for “cybersecurity-related activities” to safeguard computing systems, 101 federal agency computing networks, and databases used to protect our national security.

The department of defense will be using $8.5 billion of this budget for cybersecurity.

“Cybersecurity is an important component of the administration’s IT [Information Technology] modernization efforts, and the president remains dedicated to securing the federal enterprise from cyber-related threats,” stated the Cybersecurity Funding report located on the White House website.

In an October 1983 article, The New York Times reported the defense department had split the global Arpanet/Internet computer network into military and civilian use for security reasons.

“Network split to prevent ‘war games ’” is The New York Times’ headline for this 1983 article.

The network split limited access to university-based researchers and potential “trespassers and possible spies” who would attempt to breach a secure military computer network and cause havoc.

The original Arpanet linked together the defense department to 300 computers and 50,000 people in the US and Europe.

Military user’s non-classified information moved from Arpanet to a network called MILnet (Military Network).

MILnet later became NIPRNET (Non-classified Internet Protocol Router Network) during the 1990s, while the classified information network used by the Department of Defense has moved to SIPRNet (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network).

In 1983, many computer networks could be accessed using a personal computer with a dial-up modem, software program, and telephone number.

“All a person needed was the right phone numbers, and you could ride the network,” an anonymous Pentagon official is quoted as saying in the 1983 New York Times’ article.

I have a feeling, four months earlier (June 1983), this particular anonymous Pentagon official had seen the science fiction movie, “WarGames.”

“WarGames” is about a teenage computer whiz and hacker named David Lightman, who uses his computer and a dial-up modem for calling random telephone numbers and tracking those numbers, answering with computer modem “handshaking” protocol sounds.

He is attempting to find the classified telephone number for a specific company’s gaming computer.

One telephone number Lightman’s computer dials into and accesses is a North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) top secret, artificially-intelligent computer called WOPR (War Operation Plan Response).

WOPR plays out various nuclear attack war game scenarios between the US and the Soviet Union.

Lightman thinks WOPR is a gaming computer, obtains its secret “backdoor password,” and begins playing WOPR in a war game called Global Thermonuclear War.

He takes the side of the Soviet Union and activates its nuclear forces (not really), while WOPR obtains real control of US land-based nuclear missiles.

As the game progresses, WOPR prepares a counter-attack against the Soviet Union using real nuclear weapons.

WOPR begins a countdown to launch.

NORAD officials see a “Launch Detection” message (activated by WOPR) on their large, global monitor and believe the Soviet Union is launching nuclear weapons.

NORAD then goes to DEFCON 1 (DEFense readiness CONdition).

Meanwhile, WOPR has armed the US nuclear missiles and is minutes away from obtaining the classified launch code needed to send the missiles in a retaliatory strike.

Going back earlier in the movie, Lightman learned WOPR was playing the game for real.

He locates and convinces Professor Stephen Falken, the scientist who programmed the software for WOPR, to come to NORAD and try to stop the launch.

Falken and Lightman get WOPR to play itself in numerous games of Tic-Tac-Toe; which always end in a tie.

WOPR then “learns” the global thermonuclear war game is also unwinnable.

Just as WOPR obtains the launch code to fire the missiles, it suddenly stops the Global Thermonuclear War game and suggests “a nice game of chess” be played instead, thus avoiding a real World War III.

The 16-page US Government Cybersecurity Funding Report from the White House website is available via this shortened link, https://bit.ly/2GaWKeT.

I posted a screengrab of the Jan. 12, 1973 newspaper article on my weblog at www.bitscolumn.blogspot.com.

The movie, “WarGames,” is available on Netflix.

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