How Should The US Respond To Cyber Attacks?

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The U.S. Army’s ‘Cyber Center of Excellence’, Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga., hosted a multi-service ‘NetWar’ to show, and build, cyber Warrior capabilities Tuesday, June 10.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Tracy Smith

The principles of jus ad bellum, the "right to war," and the laws of armed conflict have evolved through centuries of development and survived military innovations like aircraft and tanks. But given cyber warfare’s inherently asymmetric nature and the difficulties in correctly and quickly attributing attacks, do the traditional laws of armed conflict still hold true? Or are we already living in an era where we hold one set of standards for countries that adhere to international law and a different set of standards for those countries that either encourage or ignore their citizens to participate in cyber attacks? Should we hold ISIS to the same set of standards for Monday’s hacking of U.S. CENTCOM’s social media pages as a state-sponsored group that hacks Sony?


The use of cyber militias is nothing new. Russia and China have tacitly encouraged the technique for the last decade deliberately in order to throw off attribution and save money (patriotic hackers who will work for free in their spare time are much cheaper than a military). The continuing questions over who really was behind the Sony hack will only further this behavior in that they encourage nation-states to utilize non-state actors to do their dirty work, knowing they can then be shielded by layers of doubt over identity. It’s hard to retaliate if there’s no return address on the malware or virus dumped onto your computer systems.

Countries like Russia and China utilizing civilian hackers to do their dirty work trigger a dilemma in distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants in a cyber world. Distinction between a lawful and unlawful combatant can be difficult enough in a face-to-face environment; imagine trying to figure it out in a virtual world just based on programming code or behavior. Are you dealing with a civilian hacker utilizing a coffee shop internet protocol address or a military hacker trying to utilize a civilian network? In a world where our networks are so intertwined, how does one distinguish between military networks and civilian networks in a retaliatory attack? Ideally, of course, a targeted attack would just take military resources offline while leaving hospitals and education facilities stable, but since any computer in the proper hands can be used to retaliate, any computer network can therefore be seen as a weapon by an attacking enemy. In the realm of cyber warfare, the distinction between lawful combatant and unlawful combatant and the distinction between a military network and a civilian network may become a luxury.

Cyber warfare can also cloud the principles behind proportionality in a military response. Here, again, Sony can be used as an example. An entity, rumored to be backed by North Korea, hacked a company doing business in America, potentially costing it billions of dollars (and a loss of prestige). If the United States government has a right to retaliate on Sony’s behalf, what could it potentially do to North Korea to have any proportional impact? Sony likely has a greater gross domestic product than North Korea and North Korean civilians are unlikely to have any access to the Internet. But what if China was behind the attack, rather than North Korea, and to retaliate, the United States utilized the same distributed denial of service attacks on China that were rumored to have been used on North Korea? Suddenly the costs are astronomical to China’s economy, dwarfing Sony’s losses, and Chinese hackers launch their own retaliatory attacks. Imagine widespread distributed denial of service attacks in America, where we rely on the Internet for everything from banking to medical records, or what would happen if our power grids were hacked.

One thing that is indisputable is that virtual actions can have tangible, physical results. From the hack on Target last Christmas to the hack on Sony more recently, American companies and citizens are vulnerable. The United States government has been vague on admitting when a cyber attack constitutes an act of war — if it is true that the distributed denial of service attacks were retaliation for the Sony hack, why are we not pressing our Russian and Ukrainian allies more strenuously regarding the Rescator-backed hack on Target last Christmas?

The “International Strategy for Cyberspace” report, commissioned by the White House and released in 2011, will only go so far as to say that, “Consistent with the United Nations Charter, states have an inherent right to self-defense that may be triggered by certain aggressive acts in cyberspace,” but then does not define what those “certain aggressive acts” might be. It’s interesting, in theory, to ponder what self-defense measures could be triggered by a cyber attack, but it might not be theory within the next 10 years; not when technologies are growing exponentially year by year. A retaliatory distributed denial of service attack this year might become a complete shutdown of a power grid within five years.

Conflicts conducted in an entirely virtual realm — albeit with physical results — are a new arena in policy, giving the United States the potential to lead in establishing new doctrines and treaties, but in the meantime, leaving us in a world of nebulous unknowns, a sort of virtual Wild West that is open to exploitation and bad actors. Some of those bad actors will want to exploit our adherence to the rules and principles governing conflict in a physical realm, especially as we try to navigate what is essentially a new world and extrapolate laws and treaties to apply. The principles of jus ad bellum and the laws of armed conflict, then, must necessarily be as fluid and dynamic as the military conflicts and technologies they govern. We shouldn’t get rid of them, but we should be prepared to adapt them for the cyber realm and the conflicts we will face there.

(U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith)

Three U.S. service members received non-life-threatening injuries after being fired on Monday by an Afghan police officer, a U.S. official confirmed.

The troops were part of a convoy in Kandahar province that came under attack by a member of the Afghan Civil Order Police, a spokesperson for Operation Resolute Support said on Monday.

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Marine Maj. Jose J. Anzaldua Jr. spent more than three years during the height of the Vietnam War. Now, more than 45 years after his release, Sig Sauer is paying tribute to his service with a special gift.

Sig Sauer on Friday unveiled a unique 1911 pistol engraved with Anzaldua's name, the details of his imprisonment in Vietnam, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" accompanied by the POW-MIA flag on the grip to commemorate POW-MIA Recognition Day.

The gunmaker also released a short documentary entitled "Once A Marine, Always A Marine" — a fitting title given Anzaldua's courageous actions in the line of duty

Marine Maj. Jose Anzaldua's commemorative 1911 pistol

(Sig Sauer)

Born in Texas in 1950, Anzaldua enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam as an intelligence scout assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

On Jan. 23, 1970, he was captured during a foot patrol and spent 1,160 days in captivity in various locations across North Vietnam — including he infamous Hỏa Lò Prison known among American POWs as the "Hanoi Hilton" — before he was freed during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.

Anzaldua may have been a prisoner, but he never stopped fighting. After his release, he received two Bronze Stars with combat "V" valor devices and a Prisoner of War Medal for displaying "extraordinary leadership and devotion to his companions" during his time in captivity. From one of his Bronze Star citations:

Using his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, he was diligent, resourceful, and invaluable as a collector of intelligence information for the senior officer interned in the prison camp.

In addition, while performing as interpreter for other United States prisoners making known their needs to their captors, [Anzaldua] regularly, at the grave risk of sever retaliation to himself, delivered and received messages for the senior officer.

On one occasion, when detected, he refused to implicate any of his fellow prisoners, even though severe punitive action was expected.

Anzaldua also received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in December 1969, when he entered the flaming wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed nearr his battalion command post in the country's Quang Nam Province and rescued the crew chief and a Vietnamese civilian "although painfully burned himself," according to his citation.

After a brief stay at Camp Pendleton following his 1973 release, Anzaldua attended Officer Candidate School at MCB Quantico, Virginia, earning his commission in 1974. He retired from the Corps in 1992 after 24 years of service.

Sig Sauer presented the commemorative 1911 pistol to Anzaldua in a private ceremony at the gunmaker's headquarters in Newington, New Hampshire. The pistol's unique features include:

  • 1911 Pistol: the 1911 pistol was carried by U.S. forces throughout the Vietnam War, and by Major Anzaldua throughout his service. The commemorative 1911 POW pistol features a high-polish DLC finish on both the frame and slide, and is chambered in.45 AUTO with an SAO trigger. All pistol engravings are done in 24k gold;
  • Right Slide Engraving: the Prisoner of War ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor and "Major Jose Anzaldua" engravings;
  • Top Slide Engraving: engraved oak leaf insignia representing the Major's rank at the time of retirement and a pair of dog tags inscribed with the date, latitude and longitude of the location where Major Anzaldua was taken as a prisoner, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" taken from the POW-MIA flag;
  • Left Side Engraving: the Vietnam War service ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor engraving;
  • Pistol Grips: anodized aluminum grips with POW-MIA flag.

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Five Marines aboard a KC-130J Super Hercules and one Marine onboard an F/A-18D Hornet were killed in the Dec. 6, 2018 collision that took place about 200 miles off the Japanese coast. Another Marine aviator who was in the Hornet survived.

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A former Army soldier was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Thursday for stealing weapons from Fort Bliss, along with other charges.

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(U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Airman 1st Class Corey Hook)

Editor's Note: This article by Richard Sisk originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The Department of Veterans Affairs released an alarming report Friday showing that at least 60,000 veterans died by suicide between 2008 and 2017, with little sign that the crisis is abating despite suicide prevention being the VA's top priority.

Although the total population of veterans declined by 18% during that span of years, more than 6,000 veterans died by suicide annually, according to the VA's 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report.

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