US may launch cyber attacks on Syria: Experts

Published: 05th September 2013 12:12 PM  |   Last Updated: 05th September 2013 12:12 PM   |  A+A-


The US is certain to launch cyber attacks on Syria if Washington goes ahead with its military action to punish Damascus for its alleged chemical weapons use, American experts said.

Cyber experts believe the government could use computer viruses to destroy Syrian defences and equipment and spy on the Syrian government as part of the possible military strike, Xinhua reported citing the Capitol Hill newspaper.

"I think that's a certainty," said Jim Lewis, director of technology at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Chris Finan, a fellow at the Truman National Security Project, expected the National Security Agency (NSA) to take the lead on launching cyber attacks on Syria, once Washington gets the nod from Congress to strike the war-ravaged country.

"The military would be very dependent on the intelligence community for anything it wants to do," he said.

However, experts were Wednesday split over how cyber attacks would be launched against Syria once the US starts bombing Syrian government targets.

The US could stage cyber attacks to disable Syrian air defence systems as part of the supporting effort, Lewis said.

"Interfering with Syrian air defence... that's almost a given," he said.

But others disagreed with this assessment, citing it is much faster and easier to take out Syrian air defence systems with cruise missiles and the US would likely save the advanced cyber weapons for a bigger conflict.

"I just think taking air defence out with a cruise missile is faster and easier," said Adam Segal, an expert on cyber conflict at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"If it is a virus, eventually they could get the virus out, and they could put the air defences back up. If you blow it up, it's gone," he said.

Finan echoed Segal's views by saying that such advanced computer virus would be very expensive to develop and could only be used once, since enemies could patch their systems.

Finan said the US would likely save advanced cyber weapons for a larger conflict, rather than using them to protect US unmanned drones in Syria.

But all the experts agreed the US would surely hack into Syrian computer systems to gather information.

Segal predicted the US could also send emails and text messages as propaganda to demoralise Syrian government officials.

The Obama administration is currently campaigning to lobby Congress to approve its military strike on Syria to punish it for the alleged chemical attack outside Damascus Aug 21, which killed 1,429 people, including 426 children.

The vote on authorising the military action in Syria is expected to be held soon at both chambers of US Congress - the Senate and the House of Representatives - after members return from summer recess Sep 9.

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