U.S. is hacking other countries with silent submarines

The U.S. has opted for a diving digital approach to combat against cyberattacks. It is reported that U.S. submarines are being used as underwater hacking platforms to target underwater communications cables or the infrastructure of other nations.

Where cyberwarriors working for Moscow and other regimes are already prodding and jabbing at U.S. networks, this approach by the U.S. comes as a surprise to some. However, in 2015, it was reported that USS Annapolis is one of the Navy’s special submarines that has cyber-offensive capabilities, as part of the 2013 Edward Snowden leaks.

According to Adam Weinstein and William Arkin, writing last year for Gawker’s intelligence and national security blog, Phase Zero, the Annapolis is a premier computer network exploitation (CNE) toolkit, a portable hacking platform that snoops on any designated target, be it another country’s infrastructure, military troops, or its underwater communications cables.

The subs represent an important part of America’s cyber strategy. According to two U.S. Navy officials at a recent Washington conference, they not only act defensively to defend themselves and the country from digital attack, but also interestingly they play a part in carrying out cyberattacks.

“There is an offensive capability that we are, that we prize very highly,” said Rear Adm. Michael Jabaley, the U.S. Navy’s program executive officer for submarines. “And this is where I really can’t talk about much, but suffice to say we have submarines out there on the front lines that are very involved, at the highest technical level, doing exactly the kind of things that you would want them to do.”

American submarine fleet has been using information technology to gain a competitive edge over the enemy. For instance, in 1970s, the U.S. government would use its submarines for unauthorized connections to the Soviet submarine cable and record messages, exchanged between the armed forces of the USSR. (The National Security Agency (NSA) has continued that tradition; wiretapping submarine cables has become part of the action covering the entire world of the U.S. intelligence apparatus. In some cases, the government even entered into the transaction with the owners of cable networks, which provided American spies secure access to the information communicated on such cables.)

Some U.S. subs these days come armed with sophisticated and powerful antennas that can be used to intercept and even manipulate other people’s communications, particularly in poorly protected or unencrypted networks.

In a typical week, a leaked slide showed that the Navy carries out hundreds of so-called “computer network exploitations.”

“Annapolis and its sisters are the infiltrators of the new of cyber warfare,” wrote Arkin and Weinstein, “getting close to whatever enemy – inside their defensive zones – to jam and emit and spoof and hack. They do this through mast-mounted antennas and collection systems atop the conning tower, some of them one-of-a-kind devices made for hard to reach or specific targets, all of them black boxes of future war.”

However, this is nothing. The next the Navy wants to do is to be able to turn its submarines into motherships for underwater drones that can move themselves even closer to shore and carry out jamming or hacking operations while letting the sub to work at a distance.

“We want the boat to grow longer arms,” said Rear Adm. Charles Richard, director of the Navy’s undersea warfare division. “We are at all-ahead flank [speed], both on unmanned aerial and undersea vehicles.”

When it comes to submarine-based cyber offense, there is no clarity as to how far behind or ahead other country’s navies are. However, one thing is clear that U.S. military have some of the most complex information networks ever designed, and they are using them to infiltrate into foreign computer systems as a part of developing cyber strategy.

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