US to Consider Cyber Attacks 'Acts of War'

Dennis Faas's picture

The Pentagon has announced plans to issue a new strategy that would correlate computer attacks from a foreign nation to that of an act of war.

In the event that a critical American computer system was ever compromised, the US President would reserve the right to consider a variety of responses, including retaliatory cyber-attacks, economic sanctions, and even a military strike.

Defining a Major Computer Attack

Naturally, a simple remote attack orchestrated by a single, independent hacker would not constitute a military response. However, a computer attack that could potentially result in widespread casualties would be treated as "acts of aggression."

These include attacks that serve to cut off power and supplies to US civilians and those targeted at hospitals and emergency-responder networks.

Other acts of aggression include cyber-attacks that result in one of the 4 D's -- death, damage, destruction, or a high level of disruption. (Source:

Cyber Attack Origin Often Unclear

The implementation of retaliatory efforts has become the basis for debate among administrators close to the situation. The problem rests in the fact that the origin of a cyber-attack is almost always unclear.

"One of the questions we have to ask is, How do we know we're at war?" posed one former Pentagon official who wished to remain anonymous. "How do we know when it's a hacker and when it's the People's Liberation Army?"

Such was the problem back in 2010, when a sophisticated attack compromised Google and its computer servers. Google concluded that the attack had originated in China, although American officials never did publicly identify its country of origin, let alone whether or not the attack was state sanctioned.

New Strategy Admittedly Ambiguous

Admittedly, administration and military officials have unanswered questions concerning retaliatory measures against foreign-led cyber-attacks, since the new strategy itself is overtly ambiguous. One administration official criticized the plan stating, "It will only work if we (The U.S.) have many more credible elements." (Source:

While White House officials declined to comment extensively on the topic, more than a few contended that using the military in response to a cyber-attack would only constitute a "last resort," after all other efforts to deter an attack had failed.

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