There's no doubt we live in an age of security anxiety, and this may or may not make you feel better: The Pentagon soon will be prepared to bomb countries harboring cyber crooks who mess with U.S. information networks.
"If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks," an unnamed military official told Siobhan Gorman and Julian E. Barnes at The Wall Street Journal.
The possibility of using force in retaliation for a cyber attack is outlined in the Department of Defense's first formal cyber strategy, portions of which are slated for publication next month, the newspaper reported. The strategy does not address how the military will determine when a cyber attack is sufficiently destructive to be considered an act of war. Pentagon officials are reportedly considering the idea of "equivalence" when making this determination. If an attack on a computer network causes the level of destruction that a conventional armed attack would cause, then it could call for a military response.
"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 and professor at Duke University School of Law. To use force in retaliation, the United States would have to show that the weapon used by cyber attackers had the same level of impact as that of a traditional attack.
Military officials are aware of the difficulty in determining with certainty the origin of an attack. It can be particularly hard to know whether an attack is linked to a foreign government.
Meanwhile, North Korea is reportedly sending its hackers abroad to hone their skills. A defector was recently quoted saying that the cyberwarfare unit of the country's Reconnaissance General Bureau has expanded from 500 to 3,000 employees, reports John E. Dunn at TechWorld.
Separately, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) sounded the alarm mid-week about a massive cyber attack originating from China that saw hundreds of personal Gmail accounts compromised--including some belonging to unnamed senior U.S. government officials. Some may be tempted to think the sky is falling after reading such a rapid-fire barrage of sobering news.