The United States has recently declared that a cyber attack will be considered an act of war and thus justifies U.S. military action. This is exactly the type of policy advocated for in my previous post on this issue, but which now comes with interesting ramifications. First and foremost, what determines a cyber attack will be crucial. A teenager in his parents’ basement attempting to access Department of Defense servers is most likely not a cyber attack, but what if that teenager has ties to Al Qaeda? As discussed previously, tech savvy youth are being heavily recruited for positions in terrorist organizations and thus although it is possible a government may launch a cyber attack on the U.S. (China comes to mind), it is more likely that cyber attacks will come from low-level organizations such as Al Qaeda.
Fortunately the U.S. has established some ground rules for cyber warfare, particularly preventative actions. Clandestine operations within and without the U.S. to protect the U.S. from a cyber attack were authorized in the 2012 Defense Bill. In the future this will be the most important asset at our disposal for combating cyber attacks. Preventative measures, almost exclusively void of conventional weaponry, must include the ability to monitor open-source as well as closed communications from terrorist groups, the capacity to infiltrate and disturb tech savvy terror cells, and the legal means to fight a cyber war. It would appear the U.S. Department of Defense is vigorously pursuing such measures.
It is speculated that the U.S. has already been hit hard by cyber attacks in the past. Many of these attacks have been attributed to governments such as China, however within the next half decade the U.S. will undoubtedly see a rise in attempted attacks by terrorist organizations. With computing capacity increasing and programmers and hackers becoming ever more efficient and sophisticated it is quite likely that attacks aimed at accessing restricted information or paralyzing U.S. military or governmental processes will be attempted in the near future. The fact that military and political figures have been exerting more effort in creating legislation to deal with cyber warfare illustrates that they feel it is a grave threat to U.S. national security. As such a threat, it cannot and should not be ignored. However, legislation alone will not be enough. The funds demanded by the Department of Defense for cyber security must be used to not only bolster U.S. cyber capabilities, but also to actively pursue and monitor those contemplating cyber attacks.