Going on the cyberattack?

A final question in this series, asking point-blank whether the military would initiate offensive actions against an “adversary” in cyberspace, did draw a longer, but still evasive, response.

“As part of approved military operations, the U.S. maintains capabilities to use the cyberspace domain as a medium through which it can defend itself against threats to national or economic security. The United States is actively developing and implementing capabilities to deter or deny a potential adversary the ability to use its computer systems to conduct cyber operations against the U.S.”

It concluded with the refrain, “For reasons of security, however, we do not provide specific information regarding our intentions, plans, or capabilities.”

A question about whether the military was currently involved in espionage-type activities against adversaries drew the same answer word-for-word as the previous one.

We finished by asking about the force that General Alexander told the House subcommittee he was assembling – our eForce. What was its makeup? How big was it? And so on. More obfuscation:

“It's not realistic to provide a finite number. Cyber security is everyone's responsibility, and the DoD's information systems includes approximately 15,000 networks and more than 7 million pieces of IT equipment. Every day we're training and expanding the staff needed to more effectively manage that enterprise.”

Now it begins to sound like nothing more than a corporate data security department. How disappointing.

Finally, we asked if military personnel are currently being trained in ‘cyber warfare?’ Here the answer appeared to be more contingent than deliberately evasive:

“We are developing a doctrine that will address how we will protect DoD interests in cyberspace as a domain, how our forces will be designed, and how they will be trained to protect and defend our networks. The ongoing Quadrennial Defense Review is assessing our current capabilities and will make recommendations on doctrine for the future.”

It’s very easy, of course, to mock bureaucratic obfuscation of this kind. It verges on comical without any editorializing by a smart-assed columnist. But the underlying issues are serious.

What exactly is the U.S. military up to in cyberspace? We know more or less what it’s doing on land, sea, and in the air. Why can’t we know at least a little more about what it’s doing in cyberspace?

The thing is, cyberspace is all connected: the military and the civilian, the entire world. That’s the root of the problem the military is addressing.

The worry is about possible collateral damage in the event of military action initiated in cyberspace against an adversary. Could General Alexander’s eForce inadvertently precipitate a Dr. Strangelove-style e-Armageddon?

Scary stuff.

Gerry Blackwell is a veteran technology journalist based in Canada. His original column on cybersecurity appears here every month.