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Obama’s cyberwarfare strategy will backfire

Source: Jason Healey, US News

America’s generals and spymasters have decided they can secure a better future in cyberspace through, what else, covert warfare, preemptive attacks, and clandestine intelligence. Our rivals are indeed seeking to harm U.S. interests and it is perfectly within the president’s purview to use these tools in response. Yet this is an unwise policy that will ultimately backfire. The undoubted, immediate national security advantages will be at the expense of America’s longer-term goals in cyberspace.

The latest headlines on covert and preemptive cyberplans highlight just the latest phase of a cyber “cult of offense” dating back to the 1990s. Unclassified details are scarce, but the Atlantic Council’s study of cyber history reveals covert plans, apparently never acted upon, to drain the bank accounts of Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein. More recent press accounts detail cyber assaults on terrorist networks (including one that backfired onto U.S. servers) and Stuxnet, which destroyed Iranian centrifuges. American spy chiefs say U.S. cyber capabilities are so prolific that this is the “golden age” of espionage, apparently including the Flame and Duqu malware against Iran and Gauss, which sought financial information (perhaps also about Iran) in Lebanese computers.

Offensive cyber capabilities do belong in the U.S. military arsenal. But the continuing obsession with covert, preemptive, and clandestine offensive cyber capabilities not only reduces resources dedicated for defense but overtakes other priorities as well.

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