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April 20th, 2019 at 10:53 am

The Weaponization of the electromagnetic spectrum


The information age is evolving the very nature of warfare. Today, each nation increasingly depends on closely integrated, high-speed electronic systems across cyberspace, geospace, and space (CGS). But, it’s a cause of great concern if an enemy can easily use a weapon like a small, inexpensive EMP device. An EMP weapon can deny any individual or entity across a nation the ability to use electromagnetic waves for their digital infrastructure and digital connectivity, e.g. radio, infrared, and radar. Moreover, a nuclear blast can also trigger an EMP effect, as can a solar storm. Individually and collectively, this emerging reality understandably changes the nature of warfare, the focus of the war, and the target of warfare, shaking up the very foundation of security.

Electronic warfare is on our doorstep, and no nation seems to be fully prepared. Since electronic warfare appears to already be on our doorstep, in order to meet the complex EMP warfare challenges that are seriously threatening the very progress and advances nations have made in CGS, it is essential to evaluate how prepared each nation is today in their defensive as well as offensive capabilities. How are nations addressing the security challenges to their CGS?

The weaponization of the electromagnetic spectrum is becoming a reality. Acknowledging this emerging reality, Risk Group initiated a much-needed discussion on Electromagnetic Warfare with Colonel Avraham Cohen, Head of National Security Cyber Research Group and the Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Sphere-SOC based in Israel on Risk Roundup.


Risk Group discusses Electromagnetic Warfare with Colonel Avraham Cohen, Head of National Security Cyber Research Group and the Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Sphere-SOC based in Israel.

Changing Nature of Warfare

Rapid advances in science and technology are creating asymmetries across nations: its government, industries, organizations, and academia (NGIOA) in many unforeseen ways. As nations move towards a highly digitalized society, there is increasing uncertainty on all fronts across CGS.

While the emerging technology is on its way to changing the way we communicate, collaborate, work, and socialize, it is also changing the way in which wars can be fought. This is primarily because today a briefcase-sized radio weapon could wreak havoc in our digitally connected world. The threat is genuine and growing. Electromagnetic (EM) attacks are not only theoretically possible, but they are also already happening. Many have been reported previously. A GPS failure was reported in South Korea in 2012, and it is believed that truck-based jamming systems were behind the attack. This is just one example. So, what threats are nations facing today from the EM weapons? What threats are possible in the coming tomorrow? Is any nation prepared for electronic warfare today?

EM Warfare

The increased need for information for all our electronics and the rapidly evolving digital systems, 4G/5G, makes many vulnerable to anyone who may wish to create problems. That means any enemy: hackers, criminals, vandals, or terrorists, can easily cause irreparable harm to anyone they want to. That brings us to an important question: how resilient is each nation’s infrastructure in cyberspace, geospace, and space to EM attacks?

This is a rapidly growing concern because unlike many other means of attack, EM weapons can be used without much risk. For example, in geospace, any terrorist gang with firearms and other weapons are noticeable and can be caught. In cyberspace, a cyber hacker may raise some alarms while attempting to slip through many firewalls. In space, any attempt to launch an attack requires extensive planning and preparation that is visible. However, for an EM attacker, it is challenging to notice any attack until electronics and computer systems begin to fail. Moreover, even when electronics or systems fail, the victims may still not know why they failed.

As seen today, the critical infrastructure across CGS is either controlled by the military, public or private entities. From defense systems to financial systems and communication systems to power systems, each system today is vulnerable to electromagnetic attacks. Not only is the personal digital infrastructure of any individual or a family at risk, but also the smart: meters, homes, enterprises, cars and so on are at risk as well. That brings us to some important questions: what role does electromagnetic energy play in the digital infrastructure of a digital global age? What kind of EM pulses are more dangerous to digital infrastructure? Also, fundamentally, why is it that easy to destroy electronics?

The digital revolution is transforming individuals and entities across NGIOA, and the military is no exception. As militaries acquire a host of new sensors and communications systems that allow their forces to establish information dominance in the fight against enemies quickly, the same capabilities can be seized by an electromagnetic weapon and exploited for the tactical advantage of the enemies. This is a complex security risk facing most nations today.

There is a growing concern that nations are vulnerable when it comes to secure communications links or access to GPS signals. If that is true, in a potential electronic war, can any nation protect its electronics? Who is responsible for safeguarding a nation’s electronics? The military? Can a nation’s military protect an entire nation worth of electronics?

Electronics Vulnerability

As we evaluate the complex security risks facing nations’ electronics and digital infrastructure, the question arises as to why our electronics are vulnerable? Why have we not designed them to be resilient to EM attacks?

It seems that electronics are vulnerable because they were designed to handle naturally occurring electromagnetic radiation, but not harmful. This understandably makes not only military operations vulnerable, but also perhaps individuals and entities across NGIOA vulnerable. Moreover, unlike other means of attack, EM weapons can be used without much risk as they are almost undetectable. So, the question is: is there no way to make electronics resilient? Perhaps chips can be developed that are EM resistant!

That brings us to an important point: whoever owns the electromagnetic spectrum will win the next war. Who owns the electromagnetic spectrum today?

Protecting Electronics from EMP Weapons

What steps can be taken to guard against EM Weapons? While it is recommended to always put as much distance as possible between any electronics and the potential attacker, how do we know who the attackers are, where they come from, and how they look? How can we surround each electronic with a barrier that can resist the EM attack?

It is essential to understand and evaluate how the EM spectrum is being controlled today and what steps can be taken to ensure EM security. The current focus is on securing the critical infrastructure which is vital to everyone: individuals and entities across NGIOA. But it is not just critical infrastructure that is important, for individuals and entities across NGIOA also care about their private infrastructure as well. That brings us to an important point: is there any practical way to limit the damage to electronic equipment? Is there any way to make electronics EMP resistant?

What Next?

The electromagnetic spectrum is where the wars of tomorrow will be fought. Since the weaponization of the electromagnetic spectrum impacts our individual and collective security, each one of us has a role in ensuring the safety and security of the electromagnetic spectrum. Let us begin a discussion on how to secure the electromagnetic spectrum, what innovations are essential, how to transform electronics to make them resilient to any EMP attacks, and how to secure the future of humanity in cyberspace, geospace, and space.

Via Forbes



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