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Not long ago, if your computer network was cut off from the Internet, devoid of wireless routers and hunkered behind locked doors, you were safe.
But not anymore.
Several U.S. industry and military labs are improving the deciphering of the 1s and 0s that traverse these carefully guarded networks, and finding ways to insert data that could include destructive viruses — in essence, "jumping the gap" into an ironclad network.
These advances show how long-standing research on electromagnetic fields and radio frequencies is coming into play in cyberwarfare, an area typically focused on software.
Sixty entities attended a classified planning day held Nov. 28 by the Army's Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate (I2WD) to discuss what can be done in the realm of electronic warfare and cyber, according to a source familiar with the program. The roughly half-dozen objectives of the Tactical Electromagnetic Cyber Warfare Demonstrator program are classified, but the source said the program is designed to demonstrate ready-made boxes that can perform a variety of tasks, including inserting and extracting data from sealed, wired networks.
Being able to jump the gap provides all kinds of opportunities, since an operator doesn't need to compromise the physical security of a facility to reach networks that are not connected to the Internet. Proximity remains an issue, experts said, but if a vehicle can be brought within range of a network, both insertion and eavesdropping are possible.
The Army program is designed specifically to test capabilities for air and ground platforms, according to an invitation to an information day on the program released by I2WD. The invitation does not provide details on the specific targets for the program.
The program, which will consist of demonstrations roughly every three months for the next two years, will test a variety of electronic warfare capabilities, said Moses Mingle, branch chief of the EW systems ground branch at I2WD.
"It's not a system. It's a demonstration platform," Mingle said. "Basically we're vetting systems concepts, tactical EW cyber scenarios that could be deployed in the future."
Asked if one of the objectives was to demonstrate a system that could jump the gap and access systems remotely, Mingle declined to go into detail, citing classification issues, but said, "That's a part of it, but not all of it."
The source with knowledge of the program said the other objectives included counter-improvised explosive device efforts, but that the convergence of cyber capabilities and EW in the form of a box that provides easy access to a sealed network is likely the most sensitive aspect, given legality issues with certain cyber attacks.