The Pentagon’s newest policy grants the US military the ability to respond to a cyber attack on government networks with physical force – equating hacking to an act of war.
This new trend has many advocates and experts worried. Hacking a government system may soon be an offence that can be retaliated against with force, even though most US government hacks are conducted by individuals and activists – not foreign governments.
“Does the United States want to say we’re guna deter Russia with nuclear weapons because of some hackers in a Moscow internet café?” asked Research fellow Benjamin H. Friedman from the Cato Institute in Washington. “That sounds like an overly bellicose threat to me.”
Friedman described the assertion that a cyber attack is an act of war as preposterous. He explained that the vast majority of attacks are criminal, but have nothing to do with defense or the military – the government must recognize the difference.
He said the use of threat of military force as a deterrent is a bad idea. The risk of criminal activity of this nature is known and should be deterrent enough.
“This is just the bureaucracy trying to deal with something we don’t need to deal with right now,” Friedman said. “It would be better to just be silent and not put something down on paper.”
The US should have offensive cyber technologies, he argued, but that is not the same as threatening war. Additionally, the US risks hypocrisy by using the same tech against others they themselves threaten others with war over.
Cyber attacks are not all lethal – thus far none have been. If a lethal attack occurs, that would be a different case. But hacks targeting passwords and credit cards are not an act of war, Friedman contended.