I wanted to help put some of you in the mindset of a DoD person when reading recent news, namely Defense official discloses cyberattack and Pentagon considers preemptive strikes as part of cyber-defense strategy, both by Washington Post reporter Ellen Nakashima. I'll assume you read both articles and the references.
Deputy Defense Secretary Lynn's article (covered by the first Post story) is significant, perhaps for reasons that aren't obvious. First, when I wore the uniform, the fact that a classified system suffered a compromise was itself classified. To this day I cannot say if a classified system I used ever suffered a compromise of any kind. Readers might be kind enough to say if this policy is still in effect today. So, to publicly admit such a widespread event -- one that affected classified systems -- that is a big deal.
Second, Lynn said "this previously classified incident was the most significant breach of U.S. military computers ever." That is significant. It sets a bar against which other incidents can be measured. Why was it so bad?
Adversaries have acquired thousands of files from U.S. networks and from the networks of U.S. allies and industry partners, including weapons blueprints, operational plans, and surveillance data.
That's serious, and specific.
Third, after citing Google's January admission, Lynn says:
Although the threat to intellectual property is less dramatic than the threat to critical national infrastructure, it may be the most significant cyberthreat that the United States will face over the long term.
Every year, an amount of intellectual property many times larger than all the intellectual property contained in the Library of Congress is stolen from networks maintained by U.S. businesses, universities, and government agencies.
As military strength ultimately depends on economic vitality, sustained intellectual property losses could erode both the United States' military effectiveness and its competitiveness in the global economy.
I interpret this as saying cyberwar is hurting the US specifically because non-military targets are being hit, repeatedly and persistently.
Finally, I'd like to provide a counterpoint regarding the second Post article. Other pundits are calling DoD's potential offensive strategy "beyond stupid." I'd like to know what's stupid: more of the same failed vulnerability-centric policies and approaches of the last, what, 10, 15, 20 years, or taking a threat-centric approach to apply pressure on the adversary? I also wrote about this in 2007, like some other pundits. In the three years since, playing defense hasn't helped much. Expect more on offensive options in the coming years, in all sectors -- not just the military.