It has become very easy to tell when our nation is under attack; massive devastation occurs leaving many Americans dead. Two of the most resounding examples have been the attack on Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attack. The time has now come to be on guard for a newer and more frightening kind of attack. Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post asks, “When is a cyberattack an act of war?”
Trying to protect our nation from cyber attacks is a daunting task. Cyber attacks are often unpredictable in timing and in method of destruction. An even more concerning fact is that it is nearly impossible to trace the attack back to the initial source. Computer viruses do not contain any information that would give a hint as to who the attacker would be.
Because cyber-warfare is so foreign to our national defense team, questions about how to react to a cyber attack are still being answered.
What should we define as a cyber attack?
How can we tell if this is a pointed attack by an enemy country or an individual attacker? Does this dictate how we should respond to the attack?
How destructive must the attack be before we respond to it?
Does it matter who is attacked and who is not?
If an attack is declared, how should we respond to it?
Should cyber attacks only be answered by other cyber attacks, or is it appropriate to initiate physical combat?
It may be that these questions do not have a firm answer. It would be very difficult to define cyber-warfare across all countries. Warfare is defined as an armed attack or use of force. If a cyber attack is the cause of human death or significant destruction amounting to that created by a weapon attack, then the United States government categorizes this as an armed attack and will react in self-defense.
This would be similar to a virus that would manipulate the information sent from air traffic control so that all airplanes crash into the ground.
What should we do if the attack is against our economy? This kind of attack does not directly lead to physical destruction or deaths, but could still severely damage our country’s framework.
Government officials have put a considerable amount of thought into answering these questions. They have, however, purposely kept their thoughts under lock-and-key. Announcing this information to the public would allow the enemy to know exactly how we would respond to certain actions. This has never been a very smart way to go about warfare.
As cyber-warfare escalates and new questions arise, the people of the United States have to believe that our government officials are doing what they can to protect us.
By: Carali Van Otteren
(Photo by Defence Images under a Creative Commons License)