After watching the US military infrastructure get kicked around like a playground weakling, an Air Force colonel wants to strike back by building a massive botnet that would mount massive denial-of-service counterattacks on adversaries that attack US networks first.
In a recently published article, Col. Charles W. Williamson III argued an Air Force-controlled botnet could be a cost-effective means to protect military networks under near-constant attack. He envisions collecting machines that would otherwise be discarded, removing their power-hungry hard drives and then making them available to wage attacks against foreign-based computers targeting the military.
"The world has abandoned a fortress mentality in the real world, and we need to move beyond it in cyberspace," Williamson wrote. "America needs a network that can project power by building an af.mil robot network (botnet) that can direct such massive amounts of traffic to target computers that they can no longer communicate and become no more useful to our adversaries than hunks of metal and plastic."
Given the constant assault being waged on networks belonging to the US government and military, it's a tempting thought. But Williamson glosses over the dire consequences of a military-controlled botnet, not the least of which is that it would almost certainly result in the cyber equivalent of friendly fire on US citizens and allies.
How to explain to hundreds of thousands of people, many of them residents of the US, UK, Israel and other like countries, that their new HP laptop has been rendered a smoldering piece of plastic because it was commandeered by a rogue state? And what about the collateral damage on all the ISPs and backbone providers that sit between the US military and all those zombie machines?
With DDoS attacks already comprising an estimated 3 percent of internet traffic, military-sponsored zombie attacks could easily cause that number to spike to levels that would make the net a less reliable place for all of us.
Not to worry. Williamson anticipated arguments like ours. The botnet will have built-in filters that would prevent US military and government machines from being targeted. He also argued that attacks on individuals whose computers are unwittingly hijacked by enemies would be justified since "there are real questions about whether the owner of that computer is truly innocent."
Williamson also rejected the idea that the US would be starting a new arms race, arguing "We are in one, and we are losing."
No doubt the US is on the losing end of the DDoS war, but we haven't seen anything yet if Williamson gets his way. His proposal is one of the more hair-brained ideas to come along in a while. If the net and the millions of people who depend on it don't collapse under the weight of a US-run botnet, they certainly will fall once the rest of the world's armies follow the example. ®