Cybersecurity

White House sends cyber deterrence policy to Congress

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The Obama administration has outlined its cyber deterrence policy for lawmakers after long-standing criticism from Capitol Hill that the administration lacked a strategy.

All instruments of power, including military and economic means, should be used in a targeted manner to "create uncertainty in adversaries' minds about the effectiveness of any malicious cyber activities," states the report sent by the Pentagon to defense committees.

The administration will focus its deterrence on cyberthreats intended to cause casualties, disrupt critical infrastructure such as the power grid, inhibit the command and control of the U.S. military and steal intellectual property. That list of deterrence priorities is "neither exhaustive nor static," according to the document.

The administration is particularly concerned about cyberthreats that "could cause wide-scale disruption, destruction, loss of life and significant economic consequences for the United States," the report states.

The document is meant as a roadmap around which federal agencies will align their efforts. It reaffirms the administration's efforts to bolster deterrence through more resilient network defense; the imposition of costs, such as sanctions, on hackers; and the establishment of international norms in cyberspace.

The report is an overdue requirement from the fiscal 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, but the debate over cyber deterrence is far from over.

Pressure has mounted on the administration to produce a more concrete deterrence policy following the massive hack of the Office of Personnel Management, which was revealed in June. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has told Congress that hacks of that magnitude would continue absent a sound deterrence policy.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has blasted the administration for what he said was a lack of a cyber deterrence strategy. Although he welcomed a Defense Department cyber strategy released earlier this year, McCain said the plan does "not integrate the ends, ways and means" of deterrence.

The Obama administration has long been concerned about a crippling cyberattack on the country's critical infrastructure. U.S. Cyber Command Commander Adm. Michael Rogers has predicted that a major cyberattack from a nation-state or rogue group would hit U.S. critical infrastructure networks by 2025.

Much work remains in properly defending that infrastructure, according to a Government Accountability Office study published Dec. 17. The Department of Homeland Security has not developed metrics for assessing its efforts to encourage adoption of a cybersecurity framework in critical infrastructure sectors, according to the report.

"Accordingly, DHS does not know if its efforts are effectively encouraging adoption of the framework," the report states.

DOD is also struggling to guard its own networks. In the past three years, several of the specialists charged with simulating attacks on military networks to build better defense have left for lucrative private-sector jobs, according to a Pentagon memo obtained by the Daily Beast. The "red team" specialists who have stayed "are not keeping pace" with sophisticated adversaries, according to the report.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.


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