Richi Jennings

USAF cyber warfare, Firefox 2.0 b2 (and Z-series barn)

September 01, 2006 5:57 AM EDT
Tally ho! It's IT Blogwatch, in which the US Air Force looks at net warfare and Mozilla releases Firefox 2.0 beta 2. Not to mention IBM's The-Office-style mainframe ads...

Hotfoot from the Pentagon, a breathless Noah Shachtman brings us this gem:
What if you could send a computer program to do the job of a spy, or a bomber, or drone? It sounds like science fiction -- and it'll probably stay that way, for a long, long time. But Air Force researchers think there's enough to the idea to start funding a trio of companies for initial work into these attacking, snooping "Cyber Craft."
Air Force paper [discusses] intelligence activities, like "being to monitor a military barracks, accumulate financial information on a potentially hostile nation, or provide status on the political climate of a South American country." ... Researchers think the programs could answer shorter-term, tactical questions, too.
Cyber Craft would have to be able to hop from standard computer networks to electrical grids to wireless nets and back, over and over again ... There's not much of this that today's software can do, the Air Force researchers acknowledge ... But the Air Force, earlier this year, did hand out contracts to three firms to start working the problem.
Of course, building the Cyber Craft, hard as it is, may wind up being the project's simplest part. The real questions come if and when fighters start to deploy the things.
Mike Elgan expands:
Each Cyber Craft would infiltrate the computer systems of a hostile nation, lurking there (remaining covert by constantly morphing itself and hiding its data) and gathering information. They might take the initiative to alert the Pentagon about key information and could even be queried ("where is President Ahmadinejad right now?"). The software would be given a software-based "cyonide capsule" and decide for itself when to self-destruct. The three companies are Assured Information Security, 3 Sigma Research and Solidcore Systems.
Kevin Poulsen:
The "cyber craft" agent will hop from network to network as needed, opening electronic locks when a special forces soldier needs to pass, causing power outages when the troops need cover of darkness; gathering real-time reconnaissance on which insurgents are hiding in what rooms. Not sure how that last part works; I guess it'll tap into the surveillance camera feed, or scan the RFID tags insurgents will all wear in the future.

It's sort of like Cortana from Halo. Or Tron. The obvious problem: what happens when the enemy's cyber agent takes matters into its own hands, sucks all the soldiers into cyber space and makes them do battle with electronic Frisbees.
Enemies of freedom: prepare to be derezed.
Armchair Anarchist:
The armed forces are always keen to leverage technologies that can save them the risk of putting human operatives into the field, and the US Air Force is no exception ... Of course, there will be risks associated with releasing such agents into cyberspace, the most obvious one being what will happen to them once their job is done. 'Fire and forget' technologies have rarely lived up to their name in the past.

Meanwhile, Robert McMillan tells us about Firefox 2.0 beta 2:
Firefox 2.0 Beta 2, released Thursday at about 3 p.m. Pacific time, features an improved user interface and a limited version of the phishing protection feature that Mozilla is developing for the browser. More information is available at the site. Beta 2 also comes with improved search capabilities, a spellchecker for Web forms, and jazzed-up tabbed browsing capabilities ... nearly final "release candidate" edition of the browser on Sept. 19, with the finished product going out the door by the end of October.
Research company estimates that about 13 percent of Web surfers now use Firefox.
I've been using Firefox 2.0 daily builds and Thunderbird 2.0 alpha along side the stable versions for quite some time using They are an entirely self-contained directory separate from your regular install.You can even run PortableFirefox from a CD so make sure to turn on the disk cache, otherwise performance is slow. Firefox's auto incremental updates work great, plus it remembers your tabs so after the restart I'm right where I left off. I'm enjoying the built-in spell check--right now in fact. Firefox's reopen recently closed tabs feature on the renamed History menu is a life saver. I just accidentally closed this tab after checking that my links worked and Firefox brought it back complete will all form information. Google Suggest in the search box rocks.
Generally, it seems to me that memory usage is lower than 1.5, even with 4 windows with 10+ tabs each. :-) I'm lovin' it!
Niall Kennedy sighs:
I visited Mozilla HQ this afternoon to discuss product strategy and positioning with a few full-time staffers. My visit happened to coincide with the release of Firefox 2 beta 2, giving me a brief glimpse into a world where your every move is both public and frequently reported (accurately and inaccurately) to a tech news hungry audience. A few news sources read the Firefox 2 status meeting notes from Tuesday and noticed beta 2 should go live today, August 31.
BusinessWeek positions Firefox against Internet Explorer and somehow thinks "Mozilla isn't giving many details" on Firefox 2, even through there is a Firefox 2 wiki available to anyone in the world. Even if the world is given access to lots of information about your company, including all your product code, speculation and rumors still remain. I think that's pretty telling for the corporate world as it tries to deal with similar issues and what to make public or keep private: loosely managed perfect information creates an environment where misinformation and speculations can still creep through.
Buffer overflow:

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Richi Jennings is an independent technology and marketing consultant, specializing in email, blogging, Linux, and computer security. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. Contact Richi at