As The Pentagon Sets The Stage for U.S. to Respond to Information Systems Sabotage With Military Force Could The Formation Of A New Military Branch Be Far Behind?
It seems like a chapter out of a science fiction novel, but highly ranked military officials, and at least one former Four Star General, are pushing hard for a fully deployable cyber-force on par with other branches of the military. You don’t have to look much farther than the Wall Street Journal to see the idea is clearly gaining traction. And why not? Recent attacks have crossed the Rubicon into the physical world creating tangible consequences and the fall of at least one major government – Egypt. One thought gaining momentum at the Pentagon is the notion of “equivalence.” If a cyber attack produces the death, damage, destruction or high-level disruption that a traditional military attack would cause, then it would be a candidate for a “use of force” consideration, which could merit retaliation.
The Pentagon’s idea of formalizing a military branch consisting of cyber warriors was born of the military’s realization that the U.S. has been slow to build up defenses against these kinds of attacks, even as civilian and military infrastructure has grown more dependent on the Internet and specifically mobile computing. The military established a new command last year, headed by the director of the National Security Agency, to consolidate military network security and attack efforts.
“The events of this last year and increased adoption rates have become a catalyst for activity around securing mobile computing in the military,” says Bruce Friedman, COO and Managing Partner at VertiGO Solutions, a military contractor specializing in secure systems for personal electronic devices (PEDs) such as mobile phones. “With smart phones and tablets becoming the platform of choice for information exchange, the US is clearly taking steps to protect against these types of attacks,” Friedman said.
The Pentagon’s first, formal cyber strategy – unclassified portions of which are expected to become public next month – represents an early attempt to grapple with a changing world in which a hacker could pose as significant a threat to U.S. nuclear reactors, subways or pipelines as a hostile country’s military.
Of course this leaves open an number of unanswered questions that will continue to spark debate over a range of sensitive issues for some time to come, including whether the U.S. can ever be certain about an attack’s origin, and how to define when computer sabotage is serious enough to constitute an act of war. Culpability, military planners argue in internal Pentagon debates, depends upon the degree to which the attack, or the weapons themselves, can be linked to a foreign government. That’s a tricky prospect at the best of times.