US Government officials were likely aware of vulnerabilities in Libyan radar systems according to a cyber security expert.
The claim follows a report in The New York Times that the Obama administration considered launching network-based attacks to help topple the regime of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
The US did not launch the attacks which would have required penetration of Libyan Government networks to disrupt military communications and radar systems, the report stated citing unnamed sources from the US Defense Department (DoD) and White House.
Had the US gone through with the cyber offensive, it would not have been the first time such an act of war was carried out by a nation, Richard Stiennon, chief research analyst at IT-Harvest and author of Surviving Cyberwar, said.
Stiennon said Israel, in September 2007, was thought to have launched a cyberattack designed to jam Syria's radar signals, allowing its military enough time to bomb a suspected nuclear facility under construction in the country.
News that the US was considering an attack to disable Libya's radars may indicate the country was aware of the same flaws Israel is believed to have leveraged against Syria, Stiennon said.
“The US Government hadn't said much about [the Israeli cyberattack, but the radar systems in Syria are provided by Russia, and are the same ones used in Libya,” Stiennon said.
“News that the US contemplated doing these attacks lends one to believe that the US has knowledge about the vulnerabilities in these radar systems.”
It was unclear how the US may have obtained such information, according to Stiennon.
Military officials ultimately did not use such capabilities against Libya, partly due to concerns that it could lead other nations, such as Russia or China, to carry out their own digital attacks, The Times reported.
However, unnamed administration officials told The Times they were confident the attack would have disrupted Libya's air-defense system.
The US had traditionally invested heavily in its cyber defense tactics, but appeared now to be quickly developing network warfare capabilities, such as denial-of-service techniques and sophisticated malware designed to infiltrate and shut down other networks, Stiennon said.
This weaponry would undoubtedly be used.
“We are getting to the point where any future conflicts between networked countries will have a cyber element,” he added.
“Just like future conflicts will have air, land and sea components, they will now have network-based attacks as well.”
The DoD in July released the unclassified version of its first-ever cyberspace operations strategy, which stated that cyberspace was the fifth war fighting domain, next to land, water, air and space.
The cyberwar battlefield in the future could extend to the control systems that provide electricity, energy, telecommunications, money and transportation, Daniel Kuehl, professor of information operations at the Information Resources Management College of the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., told SC Magazine US last year.
“In reality, the battle space that we are talking about could involve every single thing we do,” he said.