The White House has “authorized offensive cyber operations” against U.S. adversaries, in line with a new policy that eases the rules on the use of digital weapons to protect the nation, according to national security adviser John Bolton.
Bill Mew explains the implications of this change of policy in term of – due process, targeting, collateral damage and escalation.
Before embarking on any retaliatory action, you need to be sure that any initial transgression has been accurately attributed to a particular state actor. What is it were criminal organisations within a country that were not part of or directed by the state? What if, expecting retaliation, criminals had masked their activity to make it appear that the attack had come from a different location? Where is the due diligence here, what id the burden of proof and certainty and what are the exact rules of engagement?
You need to consider the exact rules of engagement here: In retaliation, assuming that the initial transgression has been accurately attributed, what do you decide in terms of tactics and what would be consdered a reasonable target? Are you just targeting government entities, the state security forces and military or the wider economy as well? How can any retaliation be effectively targeted?
If the retaliation becomes public, and especially if there is impact on the wider local population, then the US will have handed an immediate propaganda victory to its foes. In the battle for hearts and minds such retaliatory action will be entirely counter-productive.
In a shooting war, the US has massive superiority in almost all aspects of combat and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans represent impenetrable moats that protect the homeland. However, the oceans are no barrier to cyberwarfare and as the most connected nation on earth, the US is particularly vulnerable to any tit for tat escalation. The pentagon and CIA my have high level cybersecurity defences, but most individuals and small businesses across America do not and they would be seen as fair game in the event of any escalation.