21st century warfare

The Pentagon has concluded that an organized cyber attack on the United States might warrant a military response.

The conclusion is part of a strategy, parts of which will be unclassified next month, that deals with the question of hackers disrupting power or communications networks in the United States.

Wall Street Journal:

Recent attacks on the Pentagon's own systems-as well as the sabotaging of Iran's nuclear program via the Stuxnet computer worm-have given new urgency to U.S. efforts to develop a more formalized approach to cyber attacks. A key moment occurred in 2008, when at least one U.S. military computer system was penetrated. This weekend Lockheed Martin, a major military contractor, acknowledged that it had been the victim of an infiltration, while playing down its impact.

The report will also spark a debate over a range of sensitive issues the Pentagon left unaddressed, including whether the U.S. can ever be certain about an attack's origin, and how to define when computer sabotage is serious enough to constitute an act of war. These questions have already been a topic of dispute within the military.

One idea gaining momentum at the Pentagon is the notion of "equivalence." If a cyber attack produces the death, damage, destruction or high-level disruption that a traditional military attack would cause, then it would be a candidate for a "use of force" consideration, which could merit retaliation.

China has already been fingered as a possible culprit in some high profile hacks. But so has the Russian mob and Albanian organized crime families. It would be next to impossible to ferret out direct connections between the Russian government and mob. Besides, there may very well be a third party involved anyway.

This isn't so much a strategy as it is a warning. Those who would do us harm by hacking our networks could pay a steep price.