This is pretty fascinating:
"There is a — an offensive capability that we are, that we prizevery highly," said Rear Adm. Michael Jabaley, the U.S. Navy's program executive officer for submarines. "And this is where I really can't talk about much, but suffice to say we have submarines out there on the front lines that are very involved, at the highest technical level, doing exactly the kind of things that you would want them to do."
The so-called "silent service" has a long history of using information technology to gain an edge on America's rivals. In the 1970s, the U.S. government instructed its submarines to tap undersea communications cables off the Russian coast, recording the messages being relayed back and forth between Soviet forces. (The National Security Agency has continued that tradition, monitoring underwater fiber cables as part of its globe-spanning intelligence-gathering apparatus. In some cases, the government has struck closed-door deals with the cable operators ensuring that U.S. spies can gain secure access to the information traveling over those pipes.)
These days, some U.S. subs come equipped with sophisticated antennas that can be used to intercept and manipulate other people's communications traffic, particularly on weak or unencrypted networks.
"We've gone where our targets have gone" — that is to say, online, said Stewart Baker, the National Security Agency's former general counsel, in an interview. "Only the most security-conscious now are completely cut off from the Internet." Cyberattacks are also much easier to carry out than to defend against, he said.
One of America's premier hacker subs, the USS Annapolis, is hooked into a much wider U.S. spying net that was disclosed as part of the 2013 Edward Snowden leaks, according to Adam
Weinstein and William Arkin, writing last year for Gawker's intelligence and national security blog, Phase Zero. A leaked slide showed that in a typical week, the Navy performs hundreds of so-called "computer network exploitations," many of which are likely the result of submarine-based hacking.
"Annapolis and its sisters are the infiltrators of the new new of cyber warfare," wrote Arkin and Weinstein, "getting close to whatever enemy — inside their defensive zones — to jam and emit and spoof and hack. They do this through mast-mounted antennas and collection systems atop the conning tower, some of them one-of-a-kind devices made for hard to reach or specific targets, all of them black boxes of future war."