U.S., U.K. see cyberwar as facet of regular war

With two major armed forces talking up matters of cyberwar offense and retaliation, the issue evidently has become a mainstream military idea.

Symantec's report includes a graphical representation of Stuxnet infections linked to organizations in Iran.
Symantec's report includes a graphical representation of Stuxnet infections linked to organizations in Iran. Symantec

Reports from the United States and United Kingdom military this week indicate those organizations are more comfortable voicing an idea I find blindingly obvious: cyberwar is war.

First came news yesterday in the Guardian that the U.K. is developing offensive weapons that could be used in attacks on computing systems as "an integral part of the country's armory."

Then, today, the Wall Street Journal reported the U.S. will consider responding with traditional military might to an attack on its computing infrastructure. "If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks," it quoted an unnamed military official as saying.

The Pentagon is expected to make portions of its new cyberstrategy public next month, the Journal said.

In context, the views are unsurprising. The Stuxnet virus apparently was aimed at Iranian nuclear operations other countries believe are military in nature, and defense contractor Lockheed Martin confirmed that it was the target of a cyberattack . And the armed forces, beholden to budgetary largesse during a time when governments are tightening the purse strings, can directly benefit from the prospect of new threats.

Related links
• Lockheed Martin confirms it came under attack
• Iran targeted in new malware attack
• OECD: Cyberwar risk is exaggerated

The views shouldn't be a shock to anyone. Long gone are the days when computer networks weren't an essential part of the military, the economy, and the infrastructure of first-world countries. Cyberattacks may not be as obvious as exploding bombs, and defenses may not be as obvious as machine gun nests. But particularly in military circles, where people are accustomed to seeing the world in offensive and defensive terms, cyberwar can hardly be seen as anything but a newer facet of regular war.

There are some differences with at least some overt warfare. The origin of a cyberattack isn't always clear, for example. And attacks using computer viruses may incur collateral damage by causing problems civilian computing systems well beyond a specific target. Indeed, the Internet's world-spanning nature means that a country taking a shot at an enemy could wound itself and its allies as well.

What I find interesting about the military statements is that they were made at all.

It signals to me a growing willingness to publicly acknowledge cyberwar. I suspect the military considers cyberwar an increasingly significant threat--and that it's feeling more comfortable about its own technology in the area.

 

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