Offensive cyberwar itself can encompass espionage, intercepting communications, and disabling computers and other infrastructure. The United States has those capacities, but the scope of the arsenal receives far less ink than the status of the country’s defense. The Obama administration issued a report on that aspect in May and announced the creation of a cybersecurity czar to organize defense. But the sections of the report that address the country’s offense remain highly classified, according to officials familiar with its contents. That’s frustrating to many people in the national security field. “The only way that deterrence works is if the other side knows that you have weapons and the willingness to use them,” says Charles Dodd, an expert in cyberwar at the security firm Nicor Global, who advises the House Armed Services Committee on cyberthreats sponsored by foreign nations.
Despite the secrecy, brief glimpses of several cyberwar incursions have surfaced recently. The New York Times reported this year, for example, that some of the best information the intelligence community has collected on the Iranian nuclear program came from a hack into that country’s computer networks.
NSA’s Tailored Access Operation Group
focused on monitoring communications
In 2004, Thomas Reed, a retired senior national security official, revealed the extraordinary story of how the CIA tricked the Soviet Union into stealing doctored software that later destabilized the trans-Siberian gas pipeline. That fancy bit of hacking caused a massive explosion in a wilderness section of the pipeline in 1982 that was visible from space and equivalent in size to that of a 3-kiloton nuclear weapon
in 2001 a special committee of the European Union’s Parliament accused the United States of using its Echelon global spy network to steal secrets that enabled U.S. companies to beat the European consortium, Airbus, to aircraft contracts in the mid 1990s.
“The U.S. doesn’t define what constitutes an act of cyberwar, so countries like China—while publicly denying it—are going full speed ahead to take advantage of us,” says Nicor Global’s Dodd. “It would be good to see the government putting some money behind offensive capabilities to fight back.”
Provides an interesting historical perspective on an incident that might be considered “cyebrwar” today. The U.S. used faulty software to cause physical damage to a pipeline in the USSR. Was this an actof war? What was the legality of such an act? Does this prove that the ongoing cyberwar debate is not so much about the U.S. responding to threats from others as it is about justifying practices that the U.S. itself has engaged in or would like to engage in?