The Pentagon’s Plan To Hack The Hackers

Following up December’s CSIS report and in anticipation of the National Research Council report due out tomorrow, the New York Times has the skinny on cyber-warfare in the 21st century.

As Estonia learned the hard way, democracies (and their infrastructures) are increasingly the target of nationalist hackers,  digital pirates, and government spooks (from China, Russia, the USA?). The alarming possibility that all these groups have or could be in cahoots is scaring the pants off the Pentagon, which is considering developing an alternate strategic command simply for cyber-related conflicts.

Up until now, most of the discussion has focused on defense, the so-called “fortress” method: secure and separate networks for critical infrastructure, virus protection and a cyber-czar to coordinate federal response. As this article illuminates, however, the Pentagon is preparing to bolster those defensive capabilities with offensive cyber-weapons. Hacking the hackers, the article suggests, is the newest form of deterrence.

But here, I think, the Cold War metaphor breaks down. Mutually assured destruction might be a functional way to deter a world war by superpowers, but will it really stop what amount to de-localized (possibly independent) digital guerrillas? There’s a certain asymmetry in favor of the hackers. You don’t have to enrich uranium in defiance of world opinion to hack Wall Street or the U.S. power grid.

In fact, you need to do surprisingly little. With millions of potentially anonymous actors, the problem is multiplied. As in the 1983 film War Games, no one knows whether you’re dealing with a real threat or just a clever punk in a Chinese basement. It’s a warzone as dangerous as it is hazy.

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One Response to “The Pentagon’s Plan To Hack The Hackers”

  1. Peter Says:

    Hacking the hackers…what an idea. Most hackers operate from countries like Russia or China, as mentioned in the article, and how would you hack them, exactly? All you need to hack a website is a linux notebook and wireless connection, and it doesn’t really have to be your own. Every kid knows how to hack a neighbor’s wireless. So there is no way to “hack the hackers” or identify them. All you can do is to secure your servers as much as you can, backup and leave the rest to chance.