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Telecommunications: In War and Peace

📄 Contents

  1. Telecommunications and War: An Intimate Relationship
  2. Battlefield 2001
  3. Cyberterrorism
  4. Conclusion
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The world is at war against a network of terrorists. Lillian Goleniewski examines the role of telecommunications in that context and tells why understanding its role and potential is paramount to national, business, and personal survival.
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The world is at war—a war on terror or, more, precisely a network of terrorists. It seems fitting, then, that we should examine the role of telecommunications in that context. Now more than ever, understanding the role and potential of telecommunications is paramount to survival—national, business, and personal.

Telecommunications infrastructures have become such a vital underpinning to modern society and functioning that, without them, survival is threatened. Uncertain times invoke innovative measures, and, painful as it is, war is such a time. Under the duress of threat and battle, powerful telecommunications technologies emerge. We are in such a time, and telecommunications is at work.

Telecommunications and War: An Intimate Relationship

At first glance, telecommunications and war may seem like strange bedfellows, yet the telecommunications infrastructures that we are so dependent on today are a direct result of wartime advances in communications technology. The telecommunications revolution as we know it really has its roots in World War II. Many of the key elements that comprise today's extensive communications infrastructures had their origins in applications that were developed for the military during World War II.

Among these developments were computerized switching, customer dialing, communications satellites, and cellular telephony. A new era of communications began with the desire of loved ones to stay in touch with GIs scattered across the United States as well as dozens of countries around the world. That, combined with the government's military communications needs, gave birth to the habit of "reaching out" by phone. It was military innovations that improved peacetime communications and resulted in the creation of what we today treasure as the information society. ("V-E Day 1945 Marked War's End and Dawn of Communications Era," AT&T News Release, May 8, 1995.)

Why is this historical note important to reflect on? Because the current war on terror promises to once again introduce into the civilian sector advances in communications technologies whose roots will be in the military and wartime applications unfolding today.

September 11th will be remembered not only as a heart-stopping travesty for the United States; it will also come to be remembered for ushering in a new era of communication and warfare. The events of September 11th will certainly serve to accelerate what are already trends well underway. These include the continuing shift from centralized technologies to distributed solutions, the growth in mobile communications, and the transition from the real world to the virtual world.

Wireless communications have been most visibly highlighted. The world came to understand the power of mobile phones in addressing the most basic of human needs—the need to "reach out" for the voice and comfort of another human. Never have we been so aware of the benefits of cellular telephony, whether in seeking advice, reporting an emergency, reaching for a lifeline, or simply saying, "I love you." Undoubtedly, many who never saw the need for cellular phones now appreciate the importance of a mobile connection. The power of mobile phones in transporting critical data was also brought forth—the importance of location-based information couldn't have been more stressed. Both wireless applications, voice and data as well as image and video, will be highlighted during our troubled times. The dependence of military operations on wireless communications will mandate the use of advanced solutions, which, in turn, will power a new generation of mobile services, enriched with location-based capabilities. These will include developments in OFDM, UWB, GPS, optical wireless, and satellite communications.

Video also emerged as a critical link. We saw the emergence of videophones in support of journalists in Afghanistan, video doggie cams were worn by the rescue-and-recovery dogs at WTC ground zero, and companies large and small responded to travel limitations and restrictions by relying on video conferencing, online collaboration, and e-learning, greatly minimizing business disruption. The consequent result was a dramatic movement away from meetings and conferences in the real world to those in the virtual world, including Web-based meetings, Internet-based videoconferencing and other examples of virtual communications. It should be noted that the daily videophone transmissions from Afghanistan are making their mark very subtly but very powerfully. When you consider that most of our criticisms of less-than-perfect video comes as a result of comparing it to our television experience, the expanded use of videophone transmissions as part of critical wartime reporting will ultimately bring about a new acceptance and appreciation of even low-bandwidth video.

In the midst of such a disaster, with hundreds of systems and companies disabled, distributed architectures worked to ensure business survivability. These architectures, coupled with the preparations made for Y2K and emphasizing disaster recovery, proved to be of great value on September 11th. The world's business, and the business of the world, was able to continue because the communications infrastructures were not compromised. The Internet is the quintessential distributed technology; as a whole, it is essentially indestructible. However, the parts that make up the whole are indeed vulnerable. While distributed access points ensure that there is no single point of failure, the more access points there are, the greater the number of points of failure there are. This calls for enterprises and governments alike to develop an intimate understanding and assessment of not only their topologies, but also those of the public data networks. And more than ever, it is absolutely critical that those concerned with IT&T infrastructures truly understand telecommunications essentials.

Following the United States' first strikes against sites in Afghanistan, Attorney General John Ashcroft said that the FBI and other federal law-enforcement officials had advised thousands of CIOs, chief technology officers, and IT managers that their IT systems may be targeted in retaliatory terrorist attacks—or used to launch them. As companies take Ashcroft's advice to maintain "the highest state of alert" to heart, the way that they do business is likely to change. At a minimum, companies need to maintain redundant paths for telecommunications, near–real-time backups, off-site storage, and a disaster recovery plan for reconstituting their operations. It may, in fact, be more than appropriate for many business operations to move from the Internet back to the safety of dedicated leased lines, or at least secure virtual private networks (VPNs).

We must also come to realize that the exploitation of IT is taken to be the means of the emergent transformation in war fighting, introducing a new term into our lexicon: information warfare, or IW. Information-based economies are now exposed to a variety of new threats, both to the economy and to society. Information warfare tools such as logic bombs, viruses, worms, and Trojan horses are proliferating, and the ability to network has far outpaced the ability to protect networks.

In preparing yourself for the future, then, it is necessary to consider telecommunications and IT trends from several perspectives:

  1. What new developments in military and defense communications are likely to lead to commercial civilian applications?

  2. What is the nature of cyberwarfare, and what new vulnerabilities do we, as nations, enterprises, and individuals, face as a result?

  3. How does IW affect the nature of military operations and war itself?

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