Pentagon: Cyber Attacks Considered Act of War

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Headlines

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The Wall Street Journal reports that a soon to be finalized Pentagon cyber strategy will outline circumstances in which an attack against U.S. computer networks could be considered an act of war and potentially elicit an armed military response.

The report concludes that the Laws of Armed Conflict, which govern the level of appropriate military action in the face of naked aggression by a foreign power, should also extend to the cyberspace field of operations.

The report is meant to further define how to properly classify cyber attacks from a national security standpoint, as well as act as a warning that will hopefully cause potential adversaries to think twice before instigating an attack against U.S. networks.

"If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks," said an unidentified military official.

The measure of a cyber attack and the corresponding response would be determined by evaluating the level of "death, damage, destruction or high-level disruption" caused by an attack. Under this strategy, a sizable event could prompt a significant military response given the level of damage incurred.

"A cyber attack is governed by basically the same rules as any other kind of attack if the effects of it are essentially the same," said Charles Dunlap, a retired Air Force Major General who argues that the term"act of war" is merely political terminology, and does not connote a legal definition.

The Pentagon strategy follows the release of an Obama administration report on international cyber security coordination which provided the strongest indications to date that cyber attacks against a NATO member nation could invoke retaliatory actions from other member nations under the treaty's mutual defense doctrine.

The recently released report titled the International Strategy for Cyberspace, which details the U.S. strategy to foster international cybersecurity cooperation, hints that cyber aggression against the networks of one NATO nation could trigger a unified response from other member nations similar to that of a military threat response.

The report states that "the United States will ensure that the risks associated with attacking or exploiting our networks vastly outweigh the potential benefits. We fully recognize that cyberspace activities can have effects extending beyond networks; such events may require responses in self-defense. Likewise, interconnected networks link nations more closely, so an attack on one nation’s networks may have impact far beyond its borders."

The strategy seeks to align cyber security efforts amongst member nations, and gives the strongest suggestion yet that the NATO alliance may be positioned to coordinate joint international cyber security efforts.

One of the biggest obstacles to standardization of military response to cyber-based attacks is in reliably determining attribution. In many cases, it is nearly impossible to clearly determine the origin of an attack, and even more difficult to ascertain if the event was state-sponsored or instigated by individual actors.

Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304563104576355623135782718.html

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