Cyberwarfare Is Here; Is the U.S. Prepared?

Practically every aspect of life now takes place in cyberspace in addition to in the traditional world we know. While at first blush that generally may sound like a good thing, warfare now also takes place online as part of real conflicts, and not just in the realm of computer games.

U.S. Strategy; Sectors at Risk

As The Wall Street Journal has reported, U.S. military planning considers cyberattacks to constitute acts of war, just like traditional acts of war. Accordingly, cyberwarfare currently is part of U.S. military strategy, not only as part of cyber defense, but also as a platform for attacks. And prominent American lawmakers have been warning that the threat of a major attack on U.S. telecommunications and computer networks is greatly on the rise.

U.S. intelligence officials even have indicated that cyberwarfare, for the first time, is considered a larger threat than Al Qaeda and standard acts of terrorism. This is not altogether surprising, given that President Barack Obama has declared America’s digital infrastructure to be a strategic national asset.

A number of critical sectors of the U.S. economy are at risk from cyberwarfare. These sectors include banking and finance, transportation, manufacturing, medical, education, and government — all of which are dependent on computers and online communications and information for their daily operations.

Some of the International Players

The Economist has written that China plans on “winning” informationized wars in the 21st century. It also notes that other countries, such as Russia and North Korea, are mobilizing for cyberwarfare. And Iran reportedly claims to have the second-largest cyber army in the world.

Of course, in this climate, more and more U.S. taxpayer money is being poured into U.S. defensive and offensive cyberwarfare efforts.

The Bottom Line

It is imperative that cyberattacks on U.S. mission-critical and strategic systems be thwarted. Our air traffic control systems, for example, cannot be disrupted while we literally have hundreds of commercial and military planes in the air.

Likewise, just as in the context of traditional warfare, the United States needs the capability to attack in cyberspace for reasons of retaliatory self-defense, perhaps anticipatory self-defense, and when “just” wars might be necessitated as a matter of a “lesser of two evils.”

Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is of counsel in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod’s columns, please email him at with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual partners.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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