Pentagon Seeks Cyber Weapons Strong Enough to Deter Attacks

Should the US  build up a stock of cyberweapons?From Sam Jones, Financial Times:  James Clapper, the Obama administration’s director of national intelligence, is not given to slips of the tongue.

On Tuesday, largely unnoticed amid his remarks on Iran and China, the US spy chief hinted at one of the most significant debates behind the closed doors of the US security apparatus.

Cyber attacks, Mr Clapper noted, are going to get worse “until such times as we create both the substance and psychology of deterrents“.

Considering the vast sum the US spends on cyber capabilities — so much that many in defence circles liken it to a new Manhattan project — it is a startling admission. “The US has the most capable [cyber] offence in the world and it has zero deterrence value,” says James Lewis, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and project director of the Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency.

“This is where the debate is moving: some people are now saying ‘maybe we need to retaliate. Maybe we need to do something back’,” says Mr Lewis. “This is a very quiet debate — it’s not very public at all, but these are the kind of discussions the [Pentagon] is having right now.”

From W.J. Hennigan and Brian Bennett, Los Angeles Times:  “If we do nothing, then one of the potential unintended consequences of this could be, does this send a signal to other nation states, other groups, other actors that this kind of behavior is OK and that you can do this without generating any kind of response?” Adm. Mike Rogers said in a recent speech. Rogers, who is both the military’s top commander for cyber-operations as head of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, made the remarks at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colo., last week.

Without an aggressive U.S. response as a deterrent, a rise in destructive cyberattacks against government and business appears likely, a recent intelligence assessment predicted.

“Until such time as we come up with a form of deterrence that works, we’re going to have more and more of this,” said Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, also at the Aspen forum.

“I think the next wave, if you will, will be data deletions and data manipulation, which will also be very, very damaging,” Clapper said.But despite a significant increase in the number of attacks, the Obama administration has not settled on a consistent policy for responding….

The increase in state-sponsored computer attacks stems in part from a perception that “there is little price to pay for engaging in some pretty aggressive behaviors” online, Rogers said….

[T]he attacks on the State Department email system and the government’s personnel files proved how vulnerable some government systems were.

“The number of threats have gotten worse and are only escalating,” warned Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “We have to figure out how to retaliate against an attack….”

During a congressional hearing in March, Rogers discussed the need to build up a stock of cyberweapons to deter foreign countries from trying to hack vital networks.

Image: Should the US build up a stock of cyberweapons? (graphic: Department of Defense)