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Air Force To Rewrite the Rules of the Internet 547

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the because-they-can dept.
meridiangod writes "The Air Force is fed up with a seemingly endless barrage of attacks on its computer networks from stealthy adversaries whose motives and even locations are unclear. So now the service is looking to restore its advantage on the virtual battlefield by doing nothing less than the rewriting the 'laws of cyberspace.'" I'm sure that'll work out really well for them.
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Air Force To Rewrite the Rules of the Internet

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  • Disconnect (Score:5, Insightful)

    by electrictroy (912290) on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:04PM (#25615499)

    If they were smart, they would disconnect their computers from the public internet. People can't access hardware they can't access.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by electrictroy (912290)

      People can't [hack] hardware they can't access.

      • by Atriqus (826899) on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:31PM (#25615971) Homepage
        Actually, I liked the previous version... it better illustrated the obviousness of the solution.
    • Re:Disconnect (Score:5, Informative)

      by Kagura (843695) on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:10PM (#25615611)
      They actually are smart, and any computers accessing Secret information and above are NOT allowed to be hooked up to the internet or a network with access to the internet, EVER.
      • Re:Disconnect (Score:4, Insightful)

        by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:23PM (#25615847) Homepage Journal

        You're right, of course. But this isn't about computers with Secret information, which are a non-issue when it comes to the Internet -- those machines are on their own completely air-gapped network and secured behind locked doors, alarms and armed guards.

        This is about the Air Force's services that are on the public Internet. The Air Force, like the other branches of the military and other government agencies, needs to interface with the public. One of their primary means of doing that these days is through their Internet presence.

        Of course, sites in the .mil domain are going to constantly be hammered by cyber criminals, bored teenagers and even spammer gangs trying to bring down the sites.

        The USAF would like to alter the permissive and decentralized nature of the Internet through technological and possibly political means to suit itself.

        All I have to say is good luck with that and uh, get in line. Companies have tried and failed for years to mold the Internet in their own image. Companies with billions and billions of dollars to throw at the matter. Companies who were once powerful juggernauts and 800 lb. gorillas finding themselves becoming increasingly irrelevant...

        • Re:Disconnect (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Swizec (978239) on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:36PM (#25616057) Homepage
          Then there is that one company that started off very small and ended up changing the rules of the internet completely.

          You know ... Google.
          • Re:Disconnect (Score:4, Informative)

            by Thaelon (250687) on Monday November 03, 2008 @04:14PM (#25617437)

            I love Google as much as the next nerd, but exactly what rules are you talking about?

            FTP, SMTP, HTTP, UDP, and TCP/IP still work pretty much as their respective RFCs dictated prior to Google. So do ping, tracert, and a whole host of other things.

        • Re:Disconnect (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Narpak (961733) on Monday November 03, 2008 @03:28PM (#25616893)

          The USAF would like to alter the permissive and decentralized nature of the Internet through technological and possibly political means to suit itself.

          I reckon that if any entity tries a large scale centralisation of the "the internet" then the users will simply adapt and decentralize in other ways.

          The more surveillance present on the internet the less useful it will be as a way to transmit information anonymously. However with advances in wireless technologies setting up other ways to transmit data is not only possible, but easier and cheaper than ever before. It's not about doing things that are illegal, but rather that to ensure freedom, liberty and justice there needs to be ways of communicating that is not subject to government (or corporate) scrutiny.

          Of course that is not what this specific case is about, but I fear that whatever measures they implement (or try to) will carry with it a host of other issues that could inhibit the ability of ordinary citizens to access knowledge or data without being logged in an ever growing database. The phrase "if you are not doing anything illegal you have nothing to worry about" is misleading. Since it does not consider the possibility that what you did today, while not illegal, could be used months, years, decades, down the line when the motivations of those with access to the database changes (or indeed the database falls into the hands of antagonistic person(s)).

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by jc42 (318812)

            The more surveillance present on the internet the less useful it will be as a way to transmit information anonymously.

            Actually, the Internet has always been highly susceptible to surveillance. This was done intentionally, but with different terminology that matches the motive. The intent was to make it reasonably easy to manage and troubleshoot. I.e., it's supposed to be easy for support people to examine the traffic, diagnose problems, and fix them. It's a large part of why the Internet has been so succ

      • by sam0737 (648914) <sam@@@chowchi...com> on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:32PM (#25615987)

        Someone, someday will carry lost a USB thumbdrive carrying the sensitive information.

        Perhaps we need a new RFC, similar to this one [RFC1149] [faqs.org], for USB thumbdrive.

        • by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday November 03, 2008 @03:17PM (#25616725) Journal

          lameness filter forced me to munge the layout

          RFC1149a - Standard for the transmission of flash memory on avia
          Network Working Group_____________ TubeSteak
          Request for Comments: 1149a__________LOL WTF
                                                            3 November 2008
                A Standard for the Transmission of Flash Memory on Avian Carriers

          Status of this Memo
            This memo describes an experimental method for the encapsulation of
            flash memory in avian carriers. This specification is primarily
            useful in Metropolitan Area Networks. This is an experimental, not
            recommended standard. Distribution of this memo is unlimited.

          Overview and Rational
            Avian carriers can provide high delay, low throughput, and low
            altitude service. The connection topology is limited to a single
            point-to-point path for each carrier, used with standard carriers,
            but many carriers can be used without significant interference with
            each other, outside of early spring. This is because of the 3D ether
            space available to the carriers, in contrast to the 1D ether used by
            IEEE802.3. The carriers have an intrinsic collision avoidance
            system, which increases availability. Unlike some network
            technologies, such as packet radio, communication is not limited to
            line-of-sight distance. Connection oriented service is available in
            some cities, usually based upon a central hub topology.

          Frame Format
            The flash memory is packaged, inside a small waterproof container,
            and formatted to FAT32. The waterproof container is attached to the
            back of the avian, between the wings, as a backpack. The bandwidth
            is variable and limited by the carrying capacity of the avian.

            Upon receipt, the backpack is removed, the flash memory extracted
            and checked for physical and liquid damage.

          Discussion
            Multiple types of service can be provided with a prioritized pecking
            order. An additional property is built-in worm detection and
            eradication. With time, the carriers are self-regenerating. While
            broadcasting is not specified, storms can cause data loss. There is
            persistent delivery retry, until the carrier drops. Audit trails
            are automatically generated, and can often be found on logs and
            cable trays.

          Security Considerations
            Security is a problem during normal operation, as flash memory
            has a non-trivial and intrinsic value. Special measures must be
            taken (such as data encryption) when avian carriers are used in
            a tactical environment.

      • Re:Disconnect (Score:5, Insightful)

        by hey! (33014) on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:37PM (#25616073) Homepage Journal

        Correction: any computer which is supposed to be allowed to access Secret information is not allowed to be hooked up to the Internet. I suspect there is no way to enforce the rule as you state it without possibly divulging what is secret and what is not. For example if I'm monitoring a computer and find that a bunch of files have been deleted, I might look at one of the files I downloaded that was purged, and say, "hey, this memo implies the F35 can climb at over 330 meters/second."

        What I'm saying is that it's best not to trust in systems to operate according to the rules.

        • Re:Disconnect (Score:5, Informative)

          by Dun Malg (230075) on Monday November 03, 2008 @03:07PM (#25616567) Homepage

          "hey, this memo implies the F35 can climb at over 330 meters/second."

          Actually, there's plenty of that stuff around, and it's actually not necessarily classified, even if it's true. In the bad old days of the cold war, I asked the security officer in my Army unit why all this crap we were working with was classified SECRET and TOP SECRET when the same exact information was available to anyone purchasing a Jane's book by mail order. It was explained to me that it was not the raw information that was secret, but rather the positive verification that it was true that was being controlled. Most classified information falls into that category, really. Very little of it is truly secret, in that nobody without clearance knows it. I've seen quite a few pictures of "people and stuff at locations in Certain Southwest Asian Countries" that I know from personal experience would be classified SECRET or higher if they were government photos rather than casual snapshots taken by a yokel or journalist with a pocket camera. What the classification of the subject matter does is bar me (under penalty of waterboarding or whatever) from pointing out which pictures those are.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by redtail (265571)

          Whenever this topic comes up, someone always incorrectly says that an "air gap" separates SECRET networks from unclassified networks. "Cross Domain Solutions" connect SECRET networks to uclassified networks. And these include "low assurance" solutions like SELiux and Trusted Solaris.

          And these CDS machines also connect TOP SECRET networks to SECRET networks. Thus, two copies of SELinux sit between TOP SECRET networks and the Internet.

    • by blueg3 (192743)

      "People can't access hardware they can't access."

      Good tautology there.

      They already do this. Machines that don't need Internet access don't have it, and the DoD has its own network for secure communication. Sometimes, though, you want to provide services on the public Internet, yet not have them hacked.

    • Re:Disconnect (Score:5, Interesting)

      by evanbd (210358) on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:33PM (#25616019)
      Sure they can. It just adds a step: get the hardware connected. Sometimes that can be accomplished through social engineering, sometimes well-meaning people do it for you, and sometimes people simply don't realize the connection existed in the first place. Of course, it does make things harder, and it is a valuable step... but it should not, under any circumstances, be assumed to be bulletproof by itself. You still need to worry about security against an attack.
    • Re:Disconnect (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ChrisA90278 (905188) on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:45PM (#25616235)

      Yes that is pretty much the first rule. any machine with senitive data is not hooked up to the Internet. Not even via a firewall. They call it an "air gap" but today with wireless the term is an anachronism but still you get the idea "no connection at all".

      Computers that handle REALLY sensitive stuff can't even be connected to normal AC power systems or even to normal building ground wires.

      Many of the computers have removable disk drives. That is where ALL of the drives can be removed without tools. The rule requires the drives to be removed and stored in a safe when not in use.

      Believe me they do have a few smart people who understand security and they have a decent educational system in place where people have to go to class and read some papers before they can use systems that handle sensitive information. And they are required to re-take the classes periodically

      But then there are always ideots and weven normal people forget and make mistakes. But then typically some guard is assigned the task to walk around a pull on safe handles and check that desks are clear and so on. Hell likely catch most of the mistakes

      • Re:Disconnect (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 03, 2008 @03:12PM (#25616655)
        I can vouch for that. Left a classified syquest cartridge (yes it was some years ago) out on my desk once and it was noticed within 10 minutes by security. My boss was pretty understanding. He said there wee two types of people, those who had committed security procedure breaches, and those who would do so in the future. Had to go through the training again.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by demachina (71715)

      If they were smart they would post their problem on Slashdot and let all the nerds figure out a solution for them for free......

    • Re:Disconnect (Score:5, Informative)

      by pestilence669 (823950) on Monday November 03, 2008 @04:15PM (#25617453)
      Right. Why leak sensitive information now, when you can just misplace some laptops later?
  • by yttrstein (891553) on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:04PM (#25615509) Homepage
    ""[M]ost threats should be made irrelevant by eliminating vulnerabilities beforehand by either moving them 'out of band' (i.e., making them technically or physically inaccessible to the adversary), or 'designing them out' completely," the request for proposals adds."

    Luckily for the Air Force, they don't actually have to do any work at all to make this happen, since it's been not only possible, but actually implemented since at least 1998, when RFC 2341 was written all about Virtual Private Networks.

    Helpful Hint for the Air Force: Pay your private sector computer engineers more and you'll get the innovation you're looking for.
    • by sexconker (1179573) on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:28PM (#25615913)

      VPN?
      How bout a private network.

      Which is what all secret and above classifications use.

      Physically disconnected from the internet.
      Physically inaccessible by the plebes.

      Code auditing, memory wiping, classification-based job scheduling (a machine works only on secret defense or only on top secret or only on top secret nuclear, or etc. jobs at a time, never mixing), secure attention keys, custom hardware, physical security, surveillance, custom hardware, etc.

      I'd say that, for the shit that matters, they've got a pretty good setup. But let's listen to the internet nerds who think they know everything. They'll tell us how to fix it.

    • Low Bid Wins (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mfh (56)

      Helpful Hint for the Air Force: Pay your private sector computer engineers more and you'll get the innovation you're looking for.

      That doesn't work because the low bid always wins. What would be better would be if the government shifted from a bid system to a fixed bid system. ie: This job is for $50k, this is what we want, now tell us how you are better than the other guys. That would be 100x more effective, but also 100x more time consuming because then they would have to READ EVERY PROPOSAL, not just the

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by zappepcs (820751)

      I'm not sure that means what you think it does....

      The threats from the outside world can make their way into the physical spaces which are protected computer areas... via usb, camera, cell phone, and other yet to be named methods. So it is quite important that all military accessible computer networks are protected. It only takes ONE USB stick or MP3 player to plant what could turn out to be a very bad thing. Virus software has the patience and time to sit and wait, staying undetected. Antivirus programs on

  • How about no spoofing as a good start. No changeable MAC addresses and Client side certs.
    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      Since the MAC address is local only to the segment where it is used that is of relatively limited use.

      Client side certs are also a thing that isn't easy to spoof since they have to be signed to be useful. Any certs that are self-signed can easily be dismissed.

      Network security is a lot about segmentation, and using routers with correct setups means that you can easily filter out spoofed addresses.

      A bigger problem is all the proprietary protocols or encapsulated protocols circulating on a network. The big pro

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:05PM (#25615521)

    I hope they don't overlook Rule 34.

  • by David Gerard (12369) <slashdotNO@SPAMdavidgerard.co.uk> on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:05PM (#25615523) Homepage
    Remember that the 304th Military Intelligence Battalion declared Twitter a terrorist weapon [today.com]. God forbid they discover pen and paper. Or modulated farting, for that matter.
  • by circletimessquare (444983) <circletimessquare@gmail. c o m> on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:07PM (#25615571) Homepage Journal

    for an organization the size of the air force, and with the mandate it has, there is nothing laughable or overly ambitious about say, creating and implementing your own supersecure protocol, and supporting it within its subnet

    and, if successful, watch it leave its military surroundings, be adapted by universities, then corporations, then the general public

    kind of like the internet itself

    somebody is going to do this at some point, considering the various shortcomings of our present dominant protocol suite

    that it would be the military to do it first makes sense

    • by moderatorrater (1095745) on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:18PM (#25615739)
      I would have more faith in this endeavor if it were the NSA implementing it rather than the air force, although the air force is the second most likely agency/group to pull it off. From what I've seen and heard, the air force has a lot of technically skilled people in programming and hardware that would be able to pull this off.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        If the NSA did it, it would have a back door. I'd rather have the Air Force do it and ask the NSA to try to crack it.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by ipb (569735)
          Then when the NSA reports that they can't crack it would you believe them?
    • by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:31PM (#25615967) Homepage Journal

      there is nothing laughable

      But this [cnn.com] is very laughable, as is this [cnn.com] and this [crime-research.org]. Now imagine what we don't know about!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ChrisA90278 (905188)

      "for an organization the size of the air force, and with the mandate it has, there is nothing laughable or overly ambitious about say, creating and implementing your own supersecure protocol, and supporting it within its subnet"

      Yes, All we have to do is look at history. The term "Internet". Meant a network that connected networks. Back when the term was coined networks did not use TCP/IP. "IP" was designed as "Internet Protocol" or literally the protocal to be used BETWEEN networks. Only later did almo

  • Internet + secure (Score:3, Informative)

    by buchner.johannes (1139593) on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:08PM (#25615583) Homepage Journal

    The only useful and meaningful thing they could do, is implement a secure internet protocol (i.e. with the missing session and presentation layers) and provide a good interface to the internet. Then the inherited insecurity of network protocols could be avoided from the beginning.

    If it is done right, has advantages and is promoted and laid open to others, it might catch on and replace parts of the internet step by step.
    Will probably not be faster than the IPv6 transition, but hey, they made the internet, why not make another one ;-)

    Laws can not reach internet phenomena, they are too slow, and when they do, it doesn't matter anymore.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      After reading the article, e.g. quoting

      Enabling Air Force servers to evade or dodge electronic attacks, somehow.

      Its funny how they think so much in materials entering materials when talking about a electronic/information tech issue. Like the server could jump to the side when it sees a malicious packet coming ...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:10PM (#25615605)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evil_bit

  • by Sasayaki (1096761) on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:13PM (#25615657)

    As usual, Penny Arcade predicted the future. (http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2007/07/16/)

    Technician: Our webs are down, sir. We can't log in!

    Agent: Which webs?

    Technician: All of them.

    Technician: They've penetrated our code walls. They're stealing the Internet!

    Agent: We'll need to hack all IPs simultaneously.

  • by iceco2 (703132) <meirmaor&gmail,com> on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:14PM (#25615669)

    actually there is a very simple measure ISPs can take to prevent many attacks.
    and that is to prevent their customers from spoofing the source IP in their IP packets.
    If governments (starting with the US) would pressure(force by law) ISPs to do this, it can be done with out much technological difficulties.
    This anti-spoofing measure can be implemented on many levels, so that even if a certain ISP does not co-operate other ISPs could prevent its customers from spoofing any IP which does not belong to the problematic ISP. This in itself helps protect against IP spoofing.

    Without IP spoofing attackers are more easily identified and blocked.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MikeBabcock (65886)

      You've just eliminated IP spoofing by legitimate users of American ISPs. You've done nothing about the rest of the Internet. Besides, botnets don't require IP spoofing; they've already got control of random IP addresses to attack from.

  • by Tom (822) on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:21PM (#25615807) Homepage Journal

    If you actually RTFA, you see that they aren't bonkers. Quite to the contrary. See this quote, for example:

    "[M]ost threats should be made irrelevant by eliminating vulnerabilities beforehand by either moving them 'out of band' (i.e., making them technically or physically inaccessible to the adversary), or 'designing them out' completely," the request for proposals adds.

    Yeah, absolutely. Remember that this is the military we're talking about. These are the guys who are the "customers" of stuff like the NSA's formally verifiable code project. These are the guys who still use 10 year old computers because those are hardened and tested to military standards. If they upgrade to 5 year old computers, the gain in speed will offset pretty much any performance penalty that security methods that don't fly in the commercial world because of said performance penalties, could cause.

    These are also the guys who do a ton of things badly.

    So it'll be interesting to watch.

  • Attack and defend? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by evanbd (210358) on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:38PM (#25616097)
    So they want to simultaneously change the underlying network fabric in order to make their systems unattackable, and also be able to successfully attack any other system at any time? Does no one there see a disconnect between these goals?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by khallow (566160)

      So they want to simultaneously change the underlying network fabric in order to make their systems unattackable, and also be able to successfully attack any other system at any time? Does no one there see a disconnect between these goals?

      No, I don't. In fact, they seem quite compatible as goals. Chinese are doing the same thing too.

  • Replace TCP/IP (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hey (83763) on Monday November 03, 2008 @02:52PM (#25616343) Journal

    Its not so crazy that they would replace TCP/IP with something else fairly similar for their internal use.

  • by D. Taylor (53947) on Monday November 03, 2008 @03:00PM (#25616467) Homepage

    Some of the rewrites being considered:

    • Making hostile traffic inoperable on Air Force networks.

    Why, no one has ever thought of that before..

  • achilles heel (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Eil (82413) on Monday November 03, 2008 @03:02PM (#25616487) Homepage Journal

    The Air Force excels at just about everything they do. But for the past decade or two, their Achilles Heel has been computing technology because it moves faster than anything else they're used to.

    The Air Force is a very old organization and although they can generally respond to most anything quickly, overall change tends to happen very very slowly. Not long after I enlisted in 1998, there were rumors that the uniform was going to change from the classic camouflage pattern to a kind of pixellated-marble look. Based on what recent photos I can find, they're still only about halfway through getting the new uniform out to everyone.

    Also, I know for a fact we're still flying some planes with vacuum tubes in the autopilot computer even though upgrades for all airframes have been around since at least the 80's. Most of the technical manuals that I used to repair avionics were between 25-40 years old and still had technical errors in them. (We weren't able to make corrections to technical manuals any more than you'd be allowed to make pen-and-ink corrections to a federal law.)

    Computer use only became common in most squadrons about 10 years ago and even then, they were not really used for the correct purposes. Some captain would get the bright idea that somebody should use a spreadsheet program instead of a paper form for some menial task, force everybody to use it, ignore the pleas from his subordinates that it tripled the effort required to perform the task, and then make up some elaborate report for his commander about how he just saved the Air Force $358,000.

    While I was in the service, the Air Force never really caught on that you had to hire and train smart people who know about computers if you wanted to make the most of them. Some squadrons took young administrative airman fresh out of tech school and sat them down in front of the admin console and said, "All right, it's your job now to make sure this doesn't break." This is very uncharacteristic of the Air Force as you normally need at least several weeks of training before you can be trusted to mop the floor correctly. But when a commander has something that needs to be done and he doesn't know how to do it, it's not at all uncommon for him to assign someone to it while implying that they should be rather quiet about it.

    Others units farmed out network administration to government contractors like Lockheed Martin which wasn't any better because most of their employees are old military retirees who thought they were going to get paid more as a civilian for doing the same thing they did in the military and ended up being wrong on both counts. (Got seven stripes and an MSCE? Then they're hiring!)

    I guess this long-winded point it that it doesn't surprise me that high-level Air Force officers are saying, "Hey, who says we can't control this thing? We're the Air Force, after all." They're used to having fine-grained control over everything in their view and a high degree of security surrounding it.

    "Defensive operations are constantly playing 'catch up' to an ever-increasing onslaught of attacks that seem to always stay one step ahead," says the Air Force Research Laboratory's "Integrated Cyber Defense" request for proposals. "In order to tip the balance in favor of the defender, we must develop a strategic approach to cyber defense that transcends the day to day reactive operations."

    In other words, the Air Force is still nowhere near where they need to be in terms of network security. The only encouraging part of this is that they finally realize it.

  • by swordgeek (112599) on Monday November 03, 2008 @03:23PM (#25616811) Journal

    The headline here says 'rewrite the rules of the internet', whereas the Wired article talks about 'rewriting the rules of cyberspace.' Subtle difference here.

    The internet exists as it is--fundamentally an IP-based network connected in all the ways we know about, routing, addressing, etc.

    The thing is, there's no reason that the Air Force (or anyone else) couldn't create their own, entirely incompatible version. Start with something that has guaranteed QoS, hard-wired source addressing, encryption at the equivalent of the transport layer, content-metadata in the packets (or equivalent to packets--it doesn't have to be a packet protocol at all), etc..

    If you need to connect it to the internet, create a tunneling protocol, or a translating switch. Make it different. Make it incompatible. Make it rigid in its requirements. You CAN create a secure network, but not if it's based on the same technology that makes up the existing internet.

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