LAS VEGAS -- Retired General Michael Hayden, a former director of the CIA, took the stage at the Black Hat security conference in a keynote address in which he explained the rules of cyber war. At the top level, Hayden noted not every type of attack or exploit is actually an act of cyber war. He explained that "cyber" is just another domain to the U.S. military.
"When a General says 'domain,' it means land, sea, air and now cyber," Hayden said. "We organize our forces based on domains."
Hayden added that the difference between cyber and the other domains is that "God made the other domains and God did a better job than man."
Domains have physical characteristics in typical military thought as well, which is another key difference.
"You guys made the cyber domain like the north German plain and then you bitch and moan when you get invaded," Hayden said, referring to the portion of northern Germany that Cold War era planners feared would be the attack point by the communist members of the Warsaw Pact. "We made it flat and gave all the advantages to the attacker. Everything plays to the offense and almost nothing in it plays to the defense."
He added that over time there will be rivers and hills in the Web's geography that will help the defense.
The other area where cyber terrain is different, according to Hayden, is that it also has an effect on other domains.
"In cyber, you can never do anything in the cyber domain without something going 'pop' in one of the other four domains," Hayden said. "At the end of the day, it's not a video game. When you do something, it will impact physical space."
From a military definition, Hayden noted that in American military thought an attack is defined when there is some form of action to delay, deny, destruct or degrade information infrastructure. He added that hacking for the purpose of obtaining information is technically not considered an attack, but rather is thought of as an act of espionage.
In terms of cyber espionage, Hayden noted that he is amazed at the size, scope and persistence of China's espionage activities. That said, he acknowledged that the U.S. is pretty good at it, too.
Hayden noted that U.S. government officials have asked him what to do about the various acts of espionage and how to deal with potential attacks. In response, he gave the government the same advice his father gave him, he said.
"Quit whining, act like a man, and defend yourself," Hayden said.