U.S. rejected cyberattack on Libya, report says

Unnamed sources tell The New York Times that officials discussed but ultimately rejected plan to use computers to cripple early-warning system before attack on Libya.

Elinor Mills
Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
2 min read

Officials in the Obama administration considered compromising Libya's government computer networks to block early-warning data gathering and missile launches on NATO war planes during the American-led strikes this spring but decided against it, according to The New York Times.

While the move would have lowered the risk to pilots, it could have opened up a can of worms, which is ultimately why it was nixed. In addition to worrying there wouldn't be enough time to find the holes in Libya's networks to exploit before the strikes, there was a question of whether Congress would have to be notified beforehand, and officials were concerned that using a cyber offensive would set a dangerous precedent, said today's report, which was based largely on unnamed sources.

Weeks later, military strategists discussed launching a smaller attack to prevent Pakistani radars from noticing helicopters carrying Navy Seal commandos who eventually killed Osama bin Laden in May, the report says. Radar-evading Black Hawk helicopters and a surveillance drone were used instead.

There might be another reason given that the Pentagon is edging toward declaring cyberattacks launched by foreign nations acts of war meriting a military response.

There is also speculation that the U.S. may have played a part in the creation and/or spread of Stuxnet, which researchers who analyzed the code say appeared to be designed to sabotage Iran's nuclear program. No doubt, these kinds of debates go on all the time behind closed doors at high levels, but it's interesting to get a glimpse into the thinking behind them.