Military 'Show of Force' in Cyberspace Unnecessary, Officials Say
Military leaders acknowledge that a cyber-arms race is under way, but said it would be a mistake for the United States to publicly flaunt its capabilities.
The price of admission into the cyber-arms race is cheap, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Greg Brundidge, deputy director at U.S. European Cyber Command. Adversaries are finding tools and weapons for free on the Internet, he said July 15 at an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics symposium in Washington, D.C.
“The last thing you want to do in this particular domain is have a show of force,” he said. Effectiveness in cyberspace depends on a nation’s ability to use intelligence and position itself to defend against threats, he said.
“What you don’t show is probably a good measure of the script that you have to operate,” Brundidge said. “There are capabilities [that can be used] when things arise that demand a response. Each of the services have had things that they have done that have surprised our adversaries.”
The United States would have to make sure that any display of power would be seen by the appropriate actors without giving away any secrets. And part of the challenge is tracing attacks or threats back to a specific source, said Army Col. Ronald Stimeare, who heads the Defense Information Systems Agency Command Center.
It may serve the military better to tempt adversaries to attempt a network intrusion, he said. This would help U.S. cyber-operators keep up with the rapid changes on the Internet battlefield.
“Our adversaries change in the blink of an eye,” Stimeare said. “How do you stay trained and postured but also be able to be responsive?”
The DISA official threw a caution flag up for those seeking to go “toe-to-toe out of bravado,” suggesting an approach that relies more on intellect.
“If we are too premature in pulling that trigger, we have to make sure that we are able to commit all the way through,” Stimeare said.
The United States may be past the point of needing to do any demonstration of force in cyberspace, said Air Force Maj. Gen. David N. Senty, chief of staff for U.S. Cyber Command.
Simple inadvertent actions have brought down the stock market and obliterated a power plant in Russia, he said.
“There is enough evidence of why this is an important area to get right that we don’t need to be trivial with it.”