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ICG Risk Blog - [ 4GW Iraqi insurgents Using Google Earth to target, then mortar, 2-3GW UK conventional forces ]

4GW Iraqi insurgents Using Google Earth to target, then mortar, 2-3GW UK conventional forces


In a set piece example of a smaller, more nimble 4GW asymmetric attacker using Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) tools to surprise a larger, conventional 2-3GW defender, Iraqi insurgents used Google Earth to conduct 'aerial reconnaissance' of the British Royal Green Jackets, then used the Google data to mortar the English positions.

The only surprise was that the British could possibly be uncertain if it was happening:

The British security services are concerned that terrorists will be able to examine in detail sensitive infrastructure such as electricity stations, military basis, and their own headquarters in London.

and that the British could think that they could restrain the open source leveling increasingly available to asymmetrical attackers:

Soldiers from the Royal Green Jackets based at the Basra Palace base said they had considered suing Google Earth if they were injured by mortar rounds that had been directed on the camp by the aerial footage.

The British has only to review Google Earth 4.0 becomes a poor man's surveillance and targeting tool, 7/9/2006:

Google Earth 4.0 has become a poor man's surveillance and targeting tool, offering to an individual or a small distributed group what was once the purview of a few nation states. Within a month of releasing this as a private advisory last June [2006], clients advised me that they were able to significantly improve their defensive analysis and their external surveillance…

Benefits that accrue to real estate, architectural engineering and state and local planning applications also accrue to the asymmetric attacker. Military and homeland defense assets that rarely venture beyond their classified, multi-spectrum battlefield Command & Control (C2) systems will forget that the asymmetrical attacker now has a "good enough" C2 targeting and surveillance system available courtesy of the global web browser interface. For those who doubt, in Google's own words…

And before that, Improving COTS availability of open source mapping, imagery and GPS data, 10/21/2005, painted the improving access to overhead and oblique imagery:

Imagery that was historically limited to a few nations is now increasingly available on demand, at your PC, at little or no cost. (While there is dedicated imagery available for purchase from US, Russian and European sites, it comes at a price and with potentially traceability.) Imagery that offers a general overhead view of a desired facility in concert with GPS coordinates is available for operational planning purposes. The Register pointed out naval facilities, airfields (and here), airfields and revetments, intelligence, command and chemical facilities, boomers (nuclear ballistic missile submarines) at dockside, nuclear facilities and aircraft carriers at dockside. States such as India and South Korea have protested Google Earth "on the grounds that the globetrotting online service shows sensitive military installations laid bare in a way which might benefit North Korea."

Expect targeting information to be increasingly available as Google forges more commercial sharing relations such as that proposed with commercial real estate's largest data provider, CoStar Group, who "tracks more than 200 bits of data on commercial buildings in the 80 or so biggest markets in the United States and plans to expand to the top 200 markets… sends out teams in specially equipped vans to photograph buildings and use lasers to measure them and calculate their exact centers for mapping… [and using a Google map] drill down into specific information on a given building, not just see it on a map.'' CoStar holds "tenant information [that] includes details on who they are, what they do, how much they pay in rent, when their leases expire and all the phone numbers in buildings."

Interestingly, the same week that saw insurgents targeting the British, Google Earth appeared prominently in the Alaska Volcano Observatory's dynamic monitoring of active volcanoes and the EPA's publishing of "areas known or suspected of releasing contaminants, pollutants and other hazardous substances.

Mankind made maps because they were one of the richest ways in which to transmit dense information. Topographic maps made elevation and depth possible while retaining relative position. Thematic maps added means with which to interpret unique characteristics, and so forth. Google Earth and its brethren have extended both richness and analytic possibilities of geospatial information.

The combination of graphics mapping programs such as Google Earth, commercially available imagery, GPS data, and other forms of geospatial and alphanumeric information, often combined in mashups to achieve a particular analysis, have brought the capacity of a working C2 - and in combination with the web and IRC chat lines, a working C3 - system into the hands of even a neighborhood adversary, much less a determined asymmetrical attacker.

The only surprise is not that asymmetricals are using Google Earth, but that semi-custom C2-C3 mashups have not been produced for distribution among insurgents and jihadists. By standardizing the underlying databases, 4GW opponents can exchange 'battlefield' imagery and information.

It is this lack of imagination and familiarity with COTS capabilities and dual-use applications that leave conventional military forces constantly vulnerable to asymmetrical attack.

Find toxic wastelands via Google Earth
EPA takes first step in effort to make data about polluted sites more accessible to online mapping applications and the public at large.
By Anne Broache
January 17, 2007, 3:18 PM PST

Volcanoes Erupt on Google Earth
By Elizabeth Svoboda
02:00 AM Jan, 17, 2007

Terrorists 'use Google maps to hit UK troops'
By Thomas Harding in Basra
Telegraph (UK)
Last Updated: 2:06am GMT 13/01/2007

Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS): A Survey
Prepared by: Maurizio Morisio and Nancy Sunderhaft
Contract Number SP0700-98-D-4000
Data & Analysis Center for Software
Prepared for: Air Force Research Laboratory, Information Directorate (AFRL/IFED)
December 2000

Gordon Housworth

Cybersecurity Public  InfoT Public  Infrastructure Defense Public  Strategic Risk Public  Terrorism Public  


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