U.S. officials and those of their principle allies are increasingly shifting operational focus to the development of both offensive and defensive measures to be undertaken in the realm of cyberspace.
The task of strengthening the overall cybersecurity posture is being likened to those of counter-terror efforts of over a decade ago, according to key strategists.
"In cyber, we are where the counter-terrorist community was on September 12, 2001. I have come to the conclusion that we can no longer firewall our way out of the problem. We need to talk about offensive capabilities to deter bad actors. I don't think that you are going to see warfare without a cyber dimension in the future… that is a given. I think warfare as we think of it today will take on these dimensions," said Frank Cilluffo who was special assistant for homeland security for President Bush during 9/11.
In January, the Department of Defense released the Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC), a document which lays out the military's strategy for "Cross-Domain Synergy" in operations that now include a primary focus on cyberspace as a contested domain.
"Disrupting the enemy will require the full inclusion of space and cyberspace operations into the traditional air-land-sea battle space… [They have] critical importance for the projection of military force. Arguably, this emergence is the most important and fundamental change… over the past several decades," said General Martin Dempsey.
Standardizing the military's rules of engagement where electronic and information-based offense and defense are concerned has been a priority for the DoD for several years, and rules of engagement in regards to the Law of Armed Conflict is still a work in progress.
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.
"If there is significant information of a cyber-event, we reserve the right to use tools in our toolbox,. When does a cyber-attack achieve critical level? When one can attribute an attack that deliberately causes loss of life," a U.S. official stated.
In July of 2011, the Department of Defense released a document that provided an outline for proposed military-based cyber operations titled Strategy for Operating in Cyberspace.
Last month, Department of Defense officials informed a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee on that the Pentagon is in the process of finalizing guidelines for military operations in the cyberspace theater.
"We may have cyberwar as part of another war. I would hope and pray and assume that they [China] are as worried about that as we are," said former DHS deputy assistant secretary Paul Rosenzweig.
In December 2011, Congress officially sanctioned the option for the military to use offensive measures in cyberspace should the tactics be deemed necessary. Section 954 of the the FY 2012 defense authorization act.
Some industry experts liken the the surge in cyber capabilities to an arma race similar to that of the Cold War push for nuclear, chemical and conventional weapons superiority.
"It's not at a point where I would call it cyberwar yet, but it's close. I think we are certainly seeing an arms race with respect to cyber. We did well to get through the nuclear age. We did well with chemical weapons. If we can do as well with cyber, that would be great, but we don't really have a theory; I am not sure what the theory is. We don't have a model set up for how we are going to deal with this," said Internet Security Alliance President Larry Clinton.