December 18, 2012: The U.S. Department of Defense is asking American firms for help in developing better tools for quickly analyzing captured electronic data (cell phones, storage devices, and specialized military electronics). This is nothing new. For over five years the military has been using similar tools developed for police departments. For example, five years ago troops began taking a hacker analysis tool (COFEE, or Computer Online Forensic Evidence Extractor) with them on raids in Iraq. Microsoft developed COFEE for the police and military, followed by a similar tool that enables a non-hacker to analyze wireless network activity and determine which targets can be attacked with a variety of hacker tools and weapons. For nearly a decade DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has been developing versions of this cyberattack system. Details don’t get released, as that would aid potential targets.
The navy and air force have been heavily involved with DARPA on these projects. This makes sense because both services have been developing similar tools for electronic warfare, particularly for aircraft. These systems tend to be largely automatic as pilots, or even weapons officers in the back seat of a fighter, don't have a lot of time to work a screen full of options. It's different with penetrating or disrupting Internet type wireless networks. These would be encountered by ground troops, both in combat or on patrol. The cyberattack system has to be simple enough for a soldier to learn how to use it with minimal (a few hours) instruction, but flexible and powerful enough for a more experience operator to get the most out of it.
These wireless analysis and hacking tools first showed up five years ago, about the same time Microsoft quietly introduced a powerful tool for getting past security on laptops and PCs running the Windows operations system (which about 90 percent do). The device was a USB thumb drive called COFEE. When you capture an enemy computer, you plug in COFEE and then use over a hundred software tools to quickly get whatever information is on the machine. COFEE can quickly reveal passwords, decrypt files, reveal recent Internet activity, and much more. A lot of this can be done without COFEE but with the Microsoft device, intelligence collection is a lot faster.
Microsoft distributed thousands of COFEE devices to police and military intelligence personnel in the United States and some foreign countries. COFEE was developed mainly to assist the investigation of Internet based crime. But military intelligence operators find it very useful in uncovering enemy plans quickly, so additional raids can be quickly made. Islamic terrorists love their laptops and never go killing without them. The success and popularity of COFEE got the ball rolling on similar tools for other aspects of Cyber War. COFEE has been upgraded several times since it first came out, in part to get around hacker tools developed to defeat COFEE.