WASHINGTON – A barrage of cyberattacks on government agencies, blue-chip companies and critical infrastructure has prompted Pentagon officials to take a hard look at adapting the military concept that helped keep the world safe from nuclear bombings during the Cold War to the digital battlefield of the 21st century.
Mutually assured destruction, better known as MAD — the doctrine that a nuclear attack would be met with an equally devastating counterstrike — helped prevent the U.S. and the Soviet Union from using the massive arsenals they each amassed during four decades of armed standoff. Today, plans for “cyber deterrence” aim to develop an analogous ability for retaliation so overwhelming that it would prevent an adversary from attempting to breach federal computer networks.
National security officials have recently stepped up their public warnings about the need to build such a deterrent.
“If we do nothing, then one of the potential unintended consequences of this could be, does this send a signal to other nation states, other groups, other actors that this kind of behavior is OK and that you can do this without generating any kind of response?” Adm. Mike Rogers said in a recent speech.
Rogers, who is both the military’s top commander for cyber operations as head of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, made the remarks at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colo., last week.
Without an aggressive U.S. response as a deterrent, a rise in destructive cyberattacks against government and business appears likely, a recent intelligence assessment predicted.
“Until such time as we come up with a form of deterrence that works, we’re going to have more and more of this,” said Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, also at the Aspen forum.
But despite a significant increase in the number of attacks, the Obama administration has not settled on a consistent policy for responding.
“This is a new realm of war,” said Peter W. Singer, co-author of the book “Cybersecurity and Cyberwar.”
“We need to get better at it.”