Experts Respond to Defense Department Cyber Strategy

The U.S. Department of Defense recently unveiled declassified portions of its long-awaited strategy for handling cyberattacks, declaring publicly for the first time that it would treat cyberspace -- just as land, sea, and air -- as an "operational domain."

While the department's five-pronged approach to combating cyber threats signaled an important first step in the development of a national cyberwarfare strategy, it also raised many unanswered questions, including policy issues such as how the U.S. could use the Internet to respond to a cyber threat.

Three experts from the Indiana University Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research (CACR) offered brief insight into the plan. Each is available for further comment.

FRED H. CATE, CACR director and Distinguished Professor, IU Maurer School of Law: This is an important first step; it is the first time this has ever been done by the Department of Defense. But it's still a very traditional and not particularly innovative approach. There are critical legal questions that aren't asked or answered. For example: When does a cyber attack constitute an act of war and when is a kinetic response justified? What are the limits of DoD involvement in the proposed partnerships with industry and civilian government agencies? How are civil liberties to be protected? We should care, and the Defense Department should care, about the answers, but at least in the unclassified section of the report, it doesn't ask the questions, most likely because it doesn't want the department's hands tied.

DAVID P. FIDLER, CACR Fellow, James P. Calamaras Professor of Law: The five pillars of the new DoD strategy consolidate existing thinking and practice rather than break new policy ground. The central tension in this strategy is the contrast between the announced scaling up of U.S. military activities in cyberspace with repeated reassurances that these increased and intensified activities do not portend the militarization of cyberspace. The openness and interconnectedness of the Internet suggest that containing rapidly expanding military interest, initiatives, and influence in cyberspace will be a very difficult policy challenge -- especially if cybersecurity failures continue in civilian contexts. Stronger moves by the U.S. military in cyberspace will prompt similar moves by other countries, producing a collective militarization creep in cyberspace that might threaten, ultimately, the Internet freedom agenda the Obama administration is championing.

SCOTT SHACKELFORD, CACR Fellow, professor of business law and ethics, IU Kelley School of Business: The strategy states that sophisticated cyber capabilities reside with nations, allowing the U.S. to respond with military force if threatened. But it fails to note how the U.S. will be able to attribute attacks quickly and accurately, or how the U.S. will respond to state-sponsored cyberattacks launched by non-state actors. What will the burden of proof be? The strategy is interesting, but did little to change the overall dynamic or address fundamental legal and technical questions of securing cyberspace.

The Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research has been designated a National Center of Academic Excellence in both Information Assurance Education and Research. CACR is part of the Pervasive Technology Institute at Indiana University.

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