Denial of Service

Lawyers are crippling America’s ability to defend against cyberwar with arcane rules and regulations. But war waits for no man.

STEWART BAKER

Lawyers don’t win wars. But can they lose one?

We’re likely to find out, and soon. Lawyers across the U.S. government have raised so many show-stopping legal questions about cyberwar that they’ve left the military unable to fight or even plan for a war in cyberspace. But the only thing they’re likely to accomplish is to make Americans less safe.

No one seriously denies that cyberwar is coming. Russia pioneered cyberattacks in its conflicts with Georgia and Estonia, and cyberweapons went mainstream when the developers of Stuxnet sabotaged Iran’s Natanz uranium-enrichment plant, setting back the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons program more effectively than a 500-pound bomb ever could. In war, weapons that work get used again.

Unfortunately, it turns out that cyberweapons may work best against civilians. The necessities of modern life — pipelines, power grids, refineries, sewer and water lines — all run on the same industrial control systems that Stuxnet subverted so successfully. These systems may be even easier to sabotage than the notoriously porous computer networks that support our financial and telecommunications infrastructure.

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