Friday, October 6, 2006

U.S. Air Force Researches Feasibility of "CyberCraft"

Via -

What if you could send a computer program to do the job of a spy, or a bomber, or drone? It sounds like science fiction -- and it'll probably stay that way, for a long, long time. But Air Force researchers think there's enough to the idea to start funding a trio of companies for initial work into these attacking, snooping "Cyber Craft."

"Using the Cyber Domain to conduct military operations... has significant potential," an Air Force paper announces. Examples include long-term intelligence activities, like "being to monitor a military barracks, accumulate financial information on a potentially hostile nation, or provide status on the political climate of a South American country."

Researchers think the programs could answer shorter-term, tactical questions, too. "Like who is in this building across the street, where are the tanks located in a particular town or village that is going to be entered by friendly forces, or what’s the latest intelligence regarding adversarial forces in a particular town or village."

Obviously, it would take more than a bulked-up Web crawler to get the job done. Cyber Craft would have to be able to hop from standard computer networks to electrical grids to wireless nets and back, over and over again.

Cyber agents will need to embody the ability to covertly travel across these mediums, constantly assessing the network layout, morphing itself as networks change, and remaining covert while maintaining the integrity of its mission. Increased use of data hiding techniques and data hiding detection techniques add additional complexity to the Cyber craft weapon arsenal... Cyber weapons will need to perform real-time continuous self-assessment of the adversary’s detection capability and be able to make instant decisions to morph or self-destruct. Both these functions will be required in covertness and with the decision information sent back to its Cyber Craft home.


The goal is to develop a system that follows the 'fire-and-forget' methodology. However, with this philosophy comes the danger of a Cyber Craft morphing into something that performs unintended actions that would be harmful to friendly forces or provide an adversary with information about the sender’s intentions, position, etc. One way of controlling a Cyber Craft is have it 'dissolve' after completing its’ mission. However, depending on the level of the Cyber Craft (strategic, operational, and tactical) the mission length can go from minutes to years... Thus, the damage that can be inflicted by a rogue Cyber Craft could be significant.

While it does sound far fetched and the technology isn't here yet, it does sound very interesting indeed.

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