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How should the U.S. respond to state-sponsored cyberattacks?

Kenneth Corbin | July 30, 2015
It's no secret that U.S. government agencies and businesses are the target of around-the-clock cyber intrusions, many carried out by or at the behest of foreign nation-states.

Ten percent said that the United States should launch a counterattack, while 8 percent said that there should be no response.

Do we need a cyber version of the Cold War playbook?

Kessler, who is dubious about the fruits of diplomacy, takes a page from the Cold War playbook in calling for a cyber version of the doctrine of mutually assured destruction. In practice, that would mean amassing a set of offensive cyber capabilities that adversaries in foreign nations would recognize could be so destructive that they would think twice before launching attacks against U.S. targets.

"In reality the way to fight an attack from a nation-state is to have a more powerful capability and the ability to use it and be quiet about it, sort of carry the big stick but be quiet about it," he says. "You can avoid having a war if you have an incredibly powerful military and your adversary recognizes it."

While Vormetric's survey indicates that opinions run strong -- even to the extreme -- on the issue of nation-states hacking the U.S. government, there remains a considerable amount of confusion or even ambivalence on the issue. It's one thing to solicit responses to a specific question based on a specific hypothetical, but don't expect any of the presidential hopefuls to make cybersecurity the cornerstone of their stump speech in the upcoming campaign.

"I think in general the public at large lacks a great deal of understanding because the hits just keep on coming in terms of the headlines," Kessler says. "They view this in terms of how many free credits reports have they been signed up for in the last year."

What, then, would it take for cyberattacks from hostile foreign nations to become what pollsters sometimes refer to as a kitchen-table issue that really moves voters?

"I think it gets kitchen table when lives are really put at risk or lives are lost or critical infrastructure are destroyed," Kessler says. "Right now it's not. Right now it's an annoyance and it's a cost of doing business and it's maybe a lurking concern in the background, but it really hasn't been brought to the foreground."


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