The US military is now legally in the clear to launch offensive operations in cyberspace, the commander of the US Strategic Command said Wednesday, less than a month after terming this a work in progress.
Air Force General Robert Kehler said in the latest sign of quickening U.S. military preparations for possible cyber warfare that "I do not believe that we need new explicit authorities to conduct offensive operations of any kind". "I do not think there is any issue about authority to conduct operations," he added, referring to the legal framework.
But he said the military was still working its way through cyber warfare rules of engagement that lie beyond "area of hostilities," or battle zones, for which they have been approved.
The US Strategic Command is in charge of a number of areas for the US military, including space operations (like military satellites), cyberspace concerns, 'strategic deterrence' and combating WMDs. The U.S. Cyber Command, a sub-command, began operating in May 2010 as military doctrine, legal authorities and rules of engagement were still being worked out for what the military calls the newest potential battle "domain."
"When warranted, we will respond to hostile acts in cyberspace as we would to any other threat to our country," the DoD said in the report. "All states possess an inherent right to self-defense, and we reserve the right to use all necessary means – diplomatic, informational, military, and economic – to defend our nation, our allies, our partners, and our interests."
The Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, a U.S. intelligence arm, said in a report to Congress last month that China and Russia are using cyber espionage to steal U.S. trade and technology secrets and that they will remain "aggressive" in these efforts.
It defined cyberspace as including the Internet, telecommunications networks, computer systems and embedded processors and controllers in "critical industries."
The Pentagon, in the report to Congress made public Tuesday, said it was seeking to deter aggression in cyberspace by building stronger defenses and by finding ways to make attackers pay a price.