Lord: Cyberwarfare means new rules of engagement

The Defense Department needs new rules of engagement by which commanders can quickly determine the appropriate response to cyberattacks against U.S. military and civilian targets, said the incoming commander of the provisional Air Force Cyber Command, Air Force Maj. Gen. William Lord.

In an Oct. 9 interview, Lord said the speed at which cyberattacks typically unfold leaves little time for lengthy discussions about how — and if — the United States should retaliate when attacked. “In cyberwarfare, literally, within minutes you can see networks being crumbled.”

Particularly when cyberattacks target U.S. civilian networks, new processes are needed to quickly determine the nature and extent of the incident, Lord said. “It takes us a while to say, ‘Gee, are we at war? Is this just a mechanical failure? Is this an act of terrorism? Is this just a trial balloon by some brilliant 12-year-old in another nation?' " he said.

Meanwhile, the Air Force is still years away from considering a cyberattack weapon that would wreak the kind of havoc on an adversary’s networks that a nuclear bomb would on populations, Lord said. “I don’t think there is [such a weapon] yet.”

For now, Lord said, he is more concerned with beefing up the Air Force's network defenses for an era in which large-scale and potentially crippling cyberattacks might become commonplace. “While we have to be as good as we can get when we hand out this punch, we need to be able to absorb the punch,” he said.

Lord is slated to take the helm of the provisional Air Force Cyber Command at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, La., later this month.

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