Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Is Now the Time for Retaliatory Cyberattacks?

 A new era of warfare is in full swing. And America is the target.

As documented by the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property, America is in a state of siege. The report singles out China as being primarily responsible for “several hundreds of billions of dollars” of intellectual property losses from U.S. private companies. Twenty-five years of research and development has been undone in what Gen. Keith Alexander, head of the U.S. Cyber Command, calls “the greatest transfer of wealth in history.”

And these losses do not include the incalculable losses from the theft of U.S. military plans and top secret weapons systems.

Talks with high-level officials in the Chinese government have yielded denials of cyberattacks against the U.S., as well as counterclaims that China is in fact the target of such hacking and cyberattacks. President Obama will reportedly discuss cyberattacks, hacking and cyber theft during his meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping June 7th at the Annenberg estate in Rancho Mirage, California. Little is expected from this discussion, though, except for both nations to promise “ongoing discussions” of mutual cyber threat interests.

Meanwhile, hackers continue to steal America’s intellectual property and military secrets.

So what is the U.S. to do?

Given our extreme level of the losses (again, hundreds of billions of dollars per year), it is time we realize enough is enough. Strong steps must be taken to protect U.S. military secrets and corporate intellectual property.

One alternative is the use of “active defenses,” which cyberwarfare expert Jeffrey Carr defines as “electronic countermeasures designed to strike attacking computer systems and shut down cyberattacks midstream.” In other words, the best defense is a good offense. Many support active defenses, although some strongly feel this will set the stage for escalating cyberattacks of all types.

Such attacks run the risk of accidentally targeting innocent systems or may propagate in cyberspace beyond their original purpose, causing damage far beyond the intended design. But the global stakes are severe: cyberattacks are recognized as one of the greatest threats to international peace and security in the 21st century.

Active defenses are clearly a complex, controversial subject. My next post will explore the advantages – and dangers – inherent in the use of active defenses.

Give me your opinions on use of active defenses for inclusion in my next posting.

("Silhouette" image: arztsamui/

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