Mutually Assured Cyberdestruction
During the Cold War, the term “mutually assured destruction” came about as a way to describe the United States’ and Soviet Union’s mutual ability to destroy each other. The underlying philosophy was that, by each having the ability to annihilate the other, peace would be assured. Whether this sort of madness makes any sense is the subject for animated and angry debates on college campuses, so we’ll leave it there.
What is particularly relevant though, is this week’s New York Times story, which uncovered a review of the country’s cyberweapons. According to the story, the president has the authority to launch a pre-emptive cyberattack against another country, if a credible threat of digital attack exists. The Times cites a “secret legal review” of U.S. cyber-warfare strategy.
It would be entirely possible that deployment of a cyberattack (or pre-emptive attack) could be considered an act of war. The frightening scenario could set the stage for a whole new branch of military, which instead of deploying bombs by air, land or sea, would deploy them electronically. It may sound incredible, but “Hacker First Class” may be the next designation for what may become a military cyberforce. Such a force, backed by strategic policy, will be necessary as the ability to defend and retaliate against cyberattacks becomes part of the military warfighting machine, and elite teams of geeks wading through code replace foot soldiers slogging through the jungle. Already, the Pentagon has a Cyber Command, and budget for computer warfare is expected to increase.
Use of cyberforce is already real, and the United States has used it at least once, in what was code-named operation “Olympic Games”, when President Obama approved cyberattacks against Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities.
Authorized cyberwarfare will require new rules of engagement, and the administration is already defining those rules. The results could be devastating—Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta alluded to a “Cyber 9/11″ earlier in describing the possibilities, which may include crippling vital infrastructure, power grids, financial systems and communications networks.