US debated cyber-warfare against Libya

A report claims that US military officials debated over the use of 'cyber-weapons' prior to the attack on Libya, suggesting that cyber-combat is a very real concept in modern warfare.

According to a report in the New York Times, officials debated launching an attack on Libya's computing infrastructure in the hopes of disabling or disrupting the air-defence network prior to beginning a more traditional airborne offensive.

The report goes on to claim that, while the use of what is believed to be a pre-existing armoury of Trojans, viruses, malware and military hackers was suggested, the cyber-attack was never actually carried out.

While the traditional explosive-laden offensive went off on schedule, the cyber-attack was shelved due - the Times claims - to fears that an official US cyber-warfare offensive would act as a green light for other nations include Russia and China to step up their own programmes in a kind of cyber-Cold War scenario.

The fact that nations have cyber-warfare programmes active alongside their more traditional arsenal should come as no surprise, of course: China has long been accused of state-led cracking attacks against both military and civilian targets and is believed to have been behind a world-wide Trojan, while the US itself is roundly believed to have at least some input into the Stuxnet worm which was designed to attack Iranian reactor systems.

Having 'black op' cyber-warfare divisions is one thing - but becoming the first nation to actively and publicly use such techniques in the open is quite another. It's clear that the US doesn't feel ready to take that step quite yet.

"This is likely not the last time we will learn of the use of hacking and malware, or their consideration, during times of war," Sophos's Chester Wisniewski opines of the report. "The question to be asked is, would these cyber weapons end up in the hands of our enemies?

"We saw how Stuxnet was clearly designed for a very specific purpose and not intended to infect machines around the world, but once something is designed to self-replicate, our worst nightmares - SKYNET - can become reality," Wisniewski concluded, channelling Cameron in a clear reference to the Machine War of the Terminator universe.