The US has some unique subs that it can use to hack targets strategically. Underwater communications cable transmissions or the communication infrastructure of other nations are not safe as far as these submarines are concerned. But is it a surprise to hear this news?
The news about the hacking capabilities of submarines is not new news to most of us. In 2013, reports were indicating that USS Annapolis is one of the US Navy special submarines with cyber-offensive capabilities. According to the documents (Pdf) that exposed by Edward Snowden the USS Annapolis, the submarine has computer network exploitation (CNE) toolkit. CNE toolkits are portable hacking platforms that spy on specific targets, such as underwater communications cables, other military troops, and military infrastructure.
Now, reports of US Navy using submarines as cyber weapons have gained more weight. At the beginning of July, the US Navy Rear Admiral Michael E. Jabaley, Program Executive Officer of Submarines and the US Navy Rear Admiral Charles A. Richard, Director, Undersea Warfare Division both confirmed use of submarines as cyber weapons at a conference in Washington.
“There is a highly prized offensive capability, which of course I cannot say much about. Nonetheless, it is no harm to say that the US Navy has submarines in the war front that are involved in the sophisticated technical level of attacks. They do the kind of things any defense force would want them to do,” Rear Admiral Jabaley explained.
Of course, such a statement does not reveal much. But you do not expect a US general to tell much about the country’s cyber offensive strategies on television.
The Washington Post recently published a report showing that the US submarines used as hacking platforms have powerful antennas, which can intercept and manipulate other communication data, especially unencrypted communication traffic. According to the post, the USS Annapolis is still a major player in these questionable strategies.
At the moment it’s hard to tell how advanced the cyber abilities of USS Annapolis and its fleet are. It may surprise you that many officers of the Navy didn’t even know of the cyber abilities until the Washington conference. Another unclear thing is the cyber abilities of USA enemies. Are they the only Navy with portable hacking submarines or are US secrets spilling too?
In the future, the US Navy plans to expand the reach of the submarines by implanting the tech in drones. Drones can go nearer targets, more than the submarines can. The US Air Force is also working on a similar project; they started testing the modified EC-130 aeroplanes to see if they can match portable hacking platform needs.