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War, Cyber-Style

Tallinn, Estonia is one of the most wired societies in Europe and for the past several weeks has been subjected to massive and coordinated cyber attacks on Web sites of its government and critical infrastructure. By all accounts it is an unprecedented electronic assault on the public and private infrastructure of a state. Estonian officials accuse Russia of being the aggressor in response to Estonian efforts to relocate an old Soviet war memorial, a charge Russian officials deny.

This is not the first time two nations have taken their disputes into cyberspace; China and Taiwan have battled over the issue of Taiwanese independence and Israel and supporters of the Palestinian Authority have clashed in cyberspace off-and-on for years. Yet these previous efforts have been little more than petty hacker wars. The focus on "legitimate" targets - as a state would view them - strongly suggests state-sponsorship or at least the leveraging of formal strategic military expertise. And it is not like the Russians are newcomers to the use of cyberspace to further their interests.

This is just the sort of scenario that cyber-security experts and futurists have been theorizing about - and actors of varying levels of sophistication have been playing around the edges at - for years. If early reports are any indication, the success in Estonia is likely to result in more frequent use of digital weapons as a tools of national power. Viewed in the light of recent reports of weaknesses in our own critical infrastructure and the revelations from recent congressional hearings dealing with the dismal state of our national cyber-security it is clear that, despite our physical size and strength, we are not much more prepared to fend off a coordinated cyber-attack than Estonia.

2 Comments

You may have seen this, Michael, but I thought I'd post it here for others who haven't. The US Air Force has recently officially made cyberspace a war fighting domain, according to defensenews.com:

"A new irregular warfare doctrine document working its way through the U.S. Air Force spells out how air power can aid U.S. and coalition forces in nontraditional fights, and says that disrupting adversaries’ actions in cyberspace is increasingly important.

“The cyberspace domain may present numerous opportunities to directly target insurgents or to positively influence the population. Like air operations, cyber operations can strike directly at the node of interest, without first defeating ‘fielded forces,’” says a draft version of the service’s irregular warfare doctrine document. “For example, computer network attack may hinder or disrupt insurgent operations, or at least require them to expend resources defending their cyberspace assets.”

http://www.defensenews.com/story.php?F=2717730&C=america

Following tradition the Navy and Army quickly followed suit. Actually trying to work with someone to do a study of the discrete doctrines plus JP 3-13 to ID any gaps, overlap, etc.

One thing I have not seen anyone address: how comfortable the private sector ownership is going to feel having .mil make the decision about when to go to war over a DoS, etc.