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Cyber Warfare is Coming, Lynn Says

Photo: DoD/Christopher Paul
Photo: DoD/Christopher Paul

Cyber warfare will likely be a battlefield weapon in future conflicts, William J. Lynn III, deputy defense secretary, said at the Council on Foreign Relations last week.

“Any major future conflict will almost certainly include elements of cyber warfare,” he said. “And the threat posed by cyber warfare extends far beyond military operations – it extends to the very heart of our economy,” because of U.S. and global reliance on technology.

The Pentagon’s efforts to effectively repel cyber attacks picked up pace after a 2008 web-based assault on military networks through an infected flash drive, and ultimately led to a new strategy in dealing with cyber attacks.

Lynn laid out the Pentagon’s new defense strategy, as well as three characteristics of cyber assaults in an article in Foreign Affairs magazine. At the speech Sept. 30, he expanded on these points.

1)      Cyber attacks are asymmetric, often requiring massive defensive operations to combat a small-scale, but still devastating attack.

2)      It’s difficult to pinpoint who exactly the cyber attackers are. “The forensics of identifying an attacker can take weeks, months — or even years — if you can do it at all,” Lynn said.

3)       Cyber warfare is offense-dominated — easier to launch than to defend against. “Structurally, you will find the defender is always lagging behind the attacker in terms of developing measures and countermeasures,” Lynn said. “Adept programmers will always be able to find vulnerabilities and challenge security measures.”

Lynn said the attributes of cyber warfare means the United States must develop innovative and active solutions, rather than relying on a defensive bunker mentality.

He also noted the participation of other government agencies, namely the Department of Homeland Security, as well as international organizations like NATO.

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