In the race for national advantage, cyber warfare and cyber security have become cutting edges of the battle. The arms races of earlier years have been replaced by the cyber wars, and they are a constant feature in the Information Age. Cyber warfare in its simplest forms is an attack against the computer-based infrastructure of another nation. The intent is to disrupt, disable, and damage technology that supports economic, political, and military systems.

The US Realigns Cyber Warfare

Secretary Ashton Carter recently made an unusual and detailed public statement at Stanford University in which he outlined the Nation’s new policies and organizational structures for engaging the continuous battle against cyber terror and aggression. Listing potential adversaries and threats, he described the structure am missions of the Nation’s cyber defense. He also suggested the conditions under which we consider the option of first strike. The message was clear; the US has raised the costs of cyber aggression.

Sophistication and Risk

In military defense, advanced weaponry, and related research, computers and information have become primary tools. This is no less true of the civilian infrastructure that supports national economies. We rely on computerized infrastructure for nearly every major system; from the national electric grid to traffic on the Washington Bridge, to controlling satellites in near space orbit, the US relies upon sophisticated computerized infrastructure. The reliance upon computer-based systems creates risks. Systems that must attach and communicate with other systems are vulnerable to cyber attack.

Economic Cyber Warfare

The sanctions against Russia by the US and NATO allies has demonstrated the strategic use and impact of cyber warfare. The sanctions have precise economic targets. These are not attacks, but they are policy weapons enforced through cyber systems. Banking systems, immigration systems, financial monitoring, all are information age tools to limit the economy of a designated nation. Cyber warfare can use the same tools and for similar impact.

New Cyber Security Policy

Operating through a hierarchy, low-level responses will involve private companies and actors and law enforcement. More defined threats involve the assistance of the Department of Homeland Security. The most compelling cases will involve the US Cyber Command, the military cyber warfare operation command and control organization. The array of cyber weaponry includes deep and lasting damage to adversary systems, and first strikes where needed.


The price of cyber attacks has been too low for too long. Without a credible threat of retaliation, cyber attacks are an attractive proposition. It is like hitting a strong man whose hands are tied behind his back. As a policy and weapon, cyber deterrence is most appropriate when directed towards a sovereign state.

The Limits of Deterrence

There may be an inherent weakness or limitation when the adversary is not a nation state. The idea of deterrence works best when the adversary can suffer some counter-attack damage that is severe, disruptive, and lasting. Non-nation adversaries may not have a comparable concern over long-term impacts; they often are not accountable to a population and have no fixed territories or infrastructure. In these cases, direct strike capability is essential and often involves additional assets such as military resources and economic tools.

Adding Person Power

Among America’s cyber adversaries are nations that can easily exploit the talents of its young, computer-literate generations. The US will use the talents of its computer savvy civilian experts in the private sector and on a special short term assignment basis. The In Q-tel program will invest in improvements and innovations, and new personnel policies will permit short stays by talented IT professionals without the entanglements of full-fledged enlistment. It is a concession to reality, military service is not for everyone, however, the privilege of serving one’s country is.