Pentagon: Cyber sabotage an "act of war"

A recently drafted cyber strategy formulated by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) classifies digital sabotage as an act of war.

As Siobhan Gorman and Julian E. Barnes of the Wall Street Journal note, the  Pentagon’s position effectively “opens the door” for the U.S. to respond with traditional military force against hostile digital assailants. 

“If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks,” a military official told the WSJ.

Although details of the new cyber strategy remain classified, one idea currently gaining prominence at the Pentagon is the notion of “equivalence.”

For example, if a cyber attack results in death and destruction, it could merit retaliation in the form of conventional “force.”

According to Charles Dunlap, a retired Air Force Major General and professor at Duke University law school, violent cyber campaigns are the “legal equivalent” of armed attacks.

“A cyber attack is governed by basically the same rules as any other kind of attack if the effects of it are essentially the same,” opined Dunlap.

Meanwhile, James Lewis, a computer-security specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), confirmed the Pentagon is currently determining what type of cyber attack would constitute a use of force.

For example, if digital infiltrators shut down as much commerce as a naval blockade, it could be deemed an act of war justifying an equivalent response.

“[Retaliatory action will be based on] death, damage, destruction or a high level of disruption,” he added.