US military Plan X aims to make cyber war easy

Top US military technologists have been working on a programme aimed at making cyber war relatively easy for the past year, it has emerged

Top US military technologists have been working on a programme for the past year that is aimed at making cyber war relatively easy, it has emerged.

The news comes about a year since US reports said the country planned to fast-track the development of cyber weapons to give it the ability to create the means to attack specific targets.

The rapid development process would be aimed at responding to "urgent, mission critical" needs, said the Washington Post, citing a Pentagon report.

Now it has emerged that with Plan X, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) is seeking to build a technology infrastructure that will enable cyber offense to move on from being a fine, handcrafted capability, according to

The aim is to industrialise the production of cyber offensive capabilities, make cyber weapons as predictable as traditional ones and make launching a cyber attack as easy as navigating a smartphone.

If cyber war is going to be routine, it is a key requirement that cyber weapons should be as easy to understand and use as traditional ones.

Plan X is being led by cyber security specialist Dan Roelker, who has worked with Frog Design to develop a prototype user interface for cyber war that maps network topologies and makes them easy to navigate.

At present, the prototype is not fully functional, but is being used by the Plan X team to visualise cyberspace and understand how to interact with and navigate it.

The aim is to develop the interface to the point that users can find and identify targets and then pick what weapons to deploy, based on criteria set by the US military.

According to US reports, Plan X has already received $5m to fund preliminary studies to find new ways to understand network topologies and develop a unique programming language for online warfare.

The first full phase of the $110m four-year program is expected to kick off later this summer when contracts are awarded for system architecture, battlespace analytics, mission planning and more.

By the end of the year, Roelker hopes to introduce a Plan X software developers kit similar to the one Apple uses to encourage developers to build apps for its smartphones.

The strategy is to out-innovate US adversaries, but the risk is that it could result in introducing destructive cyber capabilities into cyberspace that adversaries can re-engineer and add to their own arsenals.

This concern has been raised by Howard Schmidt, former cyber security coordinator for the Obama Administration, Eugene Kaspersky, founder and CEO of security firm Kaspersky Lab, and David Davis, MP for Haltemprice and Howden and former UK minister of state at the Foreign Office.

Kaspersky said governments must understand that cyber weapons are extremely dangerous and have to agree not to use them at the Kaspersky Cyber Security Summit 2013 in New York

Schmidt said any government that creates a cyber weapon in the belief that it will not be discovered, reverse-engineered and used against it is “playing with fire”.

At the ISSA London 2013 European Conference, Davis said there is a very real danger that cyber weapons such as Stuxnet can be adapted and used against those who developed the original.

Read more on Hackers and cybercrime prevention