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Cyber Security Hall of Famer Discusses Ethics of Cyber Warfare

By Kenneth Stewart, Naval Postgraduate School Public Affairs

MONTEREY, Calif (NNS) -- The United Nations Charter prohibits the use of force by one state against another, but in the cyber world, where are the borders and what constitutes force?

Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) Defense Analysis Distinguished Professor Dorothy Denning is viewed by many as an icon in the field of information security, but has spent the last several years adding the ethics of cyber warfare to her fields of exploration.

Denning teaches a class titled, "Conflict in Cyber Space" that attempts to address the legal and ethical issues raised by cyber warfare. Her students include members of NPS' recently inaugurated Master of Science in Cyber Systems Operations (CSO) degree program, as well as members of the Joint Information Operations program and others on campus. The CSO program is training the Navy's first generation of cyber warriors.

"We focus on the law of armed conflict as well as issues related to censorship, privacy and surveillance ... It is a required course in the CSO program," said Denning.

Denning helps her students navigate the murky waters of cyber ethics, where battlefields may consist of layers of code rather than the mountains, seas and planes that have historically defined combat areas of operations.

Despite the legal ambiguity of some questions, Denning makes a seemingly powerful case for both the legality and the moral imperative to seek cyber approaches to conventional warfare objectives.

"If you can achieve the same effects with a cyber weapon versus a kinetic weapon, often that option is ethically preferable ... If an operation is morally justifiable, than a cyber route is likely preferable, because it causes less harm," said Denning.

Denning and fellow NPS Assistant Professor Bradley Strawser make the argument in a recent paper addressing cyber ethics.

In "Moral Cyber Weapons," Denning and Strawser argue, "At least with some kinds of cyber weapons, not only can they adhere to the principles of just war theory, but that a positive duty to employ them can arise, at least in certain contexts ... The reason for this moral obligation is that cyber weapons reduce both the risk to one's own military and the harm to one's adversary and non-combatants. Overall, cyber weapons are more humane, less destructive, and less risky than kinetic weapons for achieving certain military effects."

Denning insists that cyber attacks are not as new as they may appear; pointing out that cyber operations have been used in the past in conjunction with kinetic operations.

"When Israel bombed Syria's nuclear facility [in 2007], they used a cyber operation to shut off Syria's missile defense systems," she notes.

Still, Denning notes that the red line in the realm of cyber warfare - which, if crossed, could lead to kinetic warfare - has not been breached.

"We haven't crossed the threshold where a cyber attack has initiated a kinetic response," said Denning. "What we are seeing primarily is espionage, and we have never responded with military force to espionage."

Much of the espionage that Denning refers to centers on business and economic interests, but Denning is quick to point out that in our global economy, there are limits to what state actors can do without harming their own interests.

"Our interconnected economies serve as a deterrent to cyber sabotage that would damage the economy. I think that a state would be very cautious about damaging another nation's economy because it would likely damage their own economy in the process," said Denning.

The conversation that researchers like Denning and Strawser have initiated at NPS will no doubt continue. The U.S. military and both its allies and foes have made tremendous human and economic capital investments into the burgeoning arena of cyber defense. What will come of these investments remains to be seen, but their ethics and conformity with international law is already an area of particular emphasis within the cyber operations community at NPS.

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Naval Postgraduate School Enlisted SOF Student Creates Smartphone App

March 6, 2013
By Kenneth Stewart

Inspired by his own operational experiences, a Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) student's data and intel collection smartphone application entered a pilot field testing phase, Mar. 6.

U.S. Army Special Forces Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Linnel of Phoenix, Ariz. is no stranger to the mud and brick compounds riddling the Afghanistan countryside - he recently led a team of Special Forces operators trained in the art of Sensitive Site Exploitation (SSE) in Regional Command South. Now he is a student in the NPS Department of Defense Analysis (DA), and is working on a mobile device application that promises to make SSE safer and more efficient.

Linnel and his team have developed an application that they call Lighthouse SSE. As its name implies, the app utilizes the Lighthouse intelligence analysis methodology developed in the DA department's Common Operational Research Environment (CORE) Lab.

The inspiration for the project was born right out of Linnel's operational background, when he says he became increasingly frustrated after watching hard-won intelligence get filed away and forgotten.

"The idea first came to me back in 2009, when I was deployed to Kandahar and partnered with the 3rd Commando Kandak in Regional Command South ... One of my responsibilities was to manage SSE after a village had been cleared," said Linnel.

"After the mission, I would spend about three hours consolidating all of the pictures, reports and information gathered off the objective," he continued. "After I'd present the information, I'd get a, 'great job,' and the information would go nowhere."

Special operations teams are commonly given the secondary task of moving through a maze of compounds after their primary task of clearing has been completed. Their mandate is to gather themyriad clues that help ground commanders make sense of their areas of operations.

Linnel's application attempts to simplify the process of site exploitation by giving context to the plethora of pictures, faces, documents and reports born of complex operations.

"This is about enabling analysts to rapidly connect the dots and better inform decision makers," said CORE Lab Co-Director Army Special Forces Col. Greg Wilson. "The ability to rapidly exploit this type of information can enable us to get inside the enemy's decision cycle."

"A visual Rolodex for Afghanistan is one of the many by-products Lighthouse SSE produces," added Linnel. "I take a photo, it is geo-referenced, and metadata is stamped on it with relevant information about the search and the organization that produced the report."

The application is ran on an Android OS-based mobile device and connected to a tactical network via a wave relayradio system.

"By using the wave relay radio, you are able to update on the move and share information in real-time, lending context to people moving around on the ground as well as the command and control element back at the Forward Operating Base," said Linnel. "This application allows analysts to see things through the operator's eyes."

"Terrorist networks are quick to adapt after strike operations with the evidence found on targets often fleeting in nature," said Wilson. "Sgt. 1st Class Linnel's work promises to have a significant impact on our ability to rapidly gather, fuse and exploit the right information."

By capturing data in real time, analysts are able to not only receive, but to push information forward to operators in the field. This sort of two-way sharing of information may help prevent the misidentification of suspects and reduce the need for subsequent missions.

The methodology that Lighthouse SSE employs was tailored to provide uniformity to the data, helping analysts disrupt clandestine organizations and reveal dark networks.

"I kept it under the Lighthouse umbrella so that you can do things like link and social network analysis, which is made possible by the structured data captured on the Lighthouse SSE platform," said Linnel. "When you begin to apply advanced analytical methodology to the exploited intelligence from the objective, you begin to see networks and their vulnerabilities."

The first version of Linnel's application transitioned to pilot field-testing in early March. Subsequent versions will exploit advances in 3-D modeling with the goal of creating a device that is capable of molding individual photographs together to develop a complete model of the structure inside.

"In the future we will be able to stand up photos within the application to create a 3-D model that will enable our teams to plan operations, and will help us detect anomalies within the structure of buildings, like hidden rooms and caches," said Linnel.

If successful, Lighthouse SSE will permit analysts to see through the fog of war and define the human terrain in a manner that ultimately saves lives and removes bad actors from the field.



Anna Simons' Book Gets Chief of Staff Attention

Naval Postgraduate School Department of Defense Analysis Professor, Anna Simons co-authored book, The Sovereignty Solution was recently included on the Air Force Chief of Staff's recommended reading list. The Sovereignty Solution was co-written with two of Simon’s former students, U.S. Special Forces officer, Joe McGraw and Duane Lauchengco. The book was born of an academic experiment wherein Simons was asked to tackle a strategic policy question using ten NPS Department of Defense Analysis Students.





Robo Ethics 2014 Takes the Debate to the Naval Commander

by Javier Chagoya

A diverse panel of leading thinkers in the field of ethics and robotic systems, led by NPS Department of Defense Analysis Assistant Professor Dr. Bradley Strawser, shown above center, participates in the Robo Ethics 2014 debate in San Diego, Calif., March 24.

NPS students, along with students and faculty from the Naval Academy and personnel from the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama City, Fla. also participated in the debate via live video-teleconference (VTC).

“The diversity of backgrounds, experiences and disciplines on the panel was great … Having that breadth of insight across channels was an excellent way to convey the many difficulties and ethical conundrums a future commander will face with this newly-emerging technology,” said Strawser.

Panelists were asked to envision a futuristic scenario where an escalating series of events leads to war. Newly-appointed Senior Advisor for Military Professionalism Rear Adm. Peg Klein participated via VTC from Washington, D.C. Klein was asked to weigh the need to deploy unmanned and manned systems during the notional crisis, while audience members also weighed in and contributed questions and insights into the scenario.

Strawser, who has written extensively on the ethical implications of unmanned systems, discussed the continuing need to debate morality in relation to robotic systems.

“The future of robotics technology and unmanned systems complicates the moral decisions future commanders will have to make on several orders of magnitude. Asking these tough questions today, will help prepare our future leaders tomorrow,” said Strawser.



Defense Analysis Faculty Brief State Dept. Official on Anti-Gang Initiative

Sam Farr, U.S. Representative for California’s 20th congressional district, met with NPS faculty and researchers during a campus visit, May 30. Farr brought Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations, Ambassador Rick Barton, onto campus for an introduction to NPS’ Center for Cvil-Military Relations, recognizing a direct correlation between the center’s efforts and Barton’s responsibilities.

Barton leads a relatively new effort at the U.S. State Department designed to drive efforts in conflict prevention and stabilizing crises in key developing nations. He was especially interested in hearing how innovative initiatives are applied through locally-driven solutions.

“We are interested in how we can use your ideas in places where there is a wide range of violence ... and help societies in crisis,” said Barton.

NPS’ advisory partnership with the City of Salinas emerged as an excellent example. The effort began as the community wrestled with skyrocketing gang activity that put its per capita murder rate as one of the worst in the nation. Defense analysis faculty with expertise in counterinsurgency strategy were asked to assist the city in how to apply these counterinsurgency concepts to their anti-gang task force.

“No matter what you call them, gangs or youth movements, they are part of an issue that we need to understand better,” said Barton. “We are eager to hear your thoughts and have a conversation on this important topic.”

“Professionals recognize professionals ... That is why Salinas’ law enforcement community joined forces with NPS to explore the parallels between guerillas and gangs,” said Farr. “Out of [the collaboration], we have begun to understand what is causing gangs and guerillas to mature into violent cultures."



Focus On ... Making Research Happen

Behind every successful department on campus is a team working tirelessly to see that students and faculty receive the funding and support they need. Fortunately for the NPS Common Operational Research Environment (CORE) Lab and the Rapid Reaction Technology Office (RRTO), longtime NPS staff member Karen Flaherty doesn’t shy from hard work.

Flaherty joined NPS in 1994 in support of the Defense Health Resources center and witnessed its transformation into what is now the Institute for Defense Education and Analysis. In 2003 she was recruited to assist with the master’s program for the Center for Homeland Defense and Security. In 2007, she took on two roles in support of the RRTO and the CORE Lab.

“It’s given me a chance to explore my abilities and to push my own boundaries in a way to show me what can be accomplished,” Flaherty said. “You never know what the day’s going to bring and generally, if you’re lucky, you learn something new everyday.” As a research associate, Flaherty’s role with the RRTO is to support the proposal process in regards to funds aiding special operations research and NPS graduate school projects.

In addition, Flaherty provides help to students and faculty in need of aid for thesis and research work via the CORE Lab. The CORE Lab provides advanced methodologies and social network analysis tools to study dark networks. The lab offers training and data analysis on the tools they provide.

“What sticks with me are the CORE Lab’s longstanding relationships with students that are no longer at NPS,” Flaherty said. “Students leave NPS and end up using these tools in their new commands while continuing to stay linked to the CORE Lab.



NPS’ CORE Lab Rethinks Traditional Intelligence Analysis

Researchers at the Naval Postgraduate School’s (NPS) Common Operational Research Environment (CORE) Lab have embarked on several innovative programs that allow both intelligence analysts and tactical operators to visualize the battlefield as never seen before. 

Read the full story here.



NPR Interview with Professor Bradley Strawser: The Future of Cyberwar

What is the future of cyber war? And what rules of engagement or ethics come with this new form of combat? Listen to this NPR interview to find out.



In Salinas, Fighting Gang Violence on a Shoestring

Read the New York Times article on the DA Department's involvement in quelling gang violence in Salinas!



SOF 2030 Brief

In September 2011, Professor Anna Simons ran the department's third OSD-sponsored Long Term Strategy Seminar with DA students. 2011's topic was "SOF 2030." Twelve U.S. officers and one CWO participated, representing Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces, Air Force Special Operations, the Air Force, and the Marine Corps. Students briefed their results in Washington in Fall 2011 to audiences in the Pentagon and at the CIA. This report summarizes that 50-minute long brief.



Dr. John Arquilla named one of the Foreign Policy Top 100 Global Thinkers

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