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Several high-profile, suspected government-backed cyber attacks on the US might have caused a bit of a shift in the American combat strategy. After countless warnings and debates, these attacks might have been the last straw in the realization that the next major battle might be a cyber one.
In an unprecedented move, Congress just ordered U.S. Cyber Command to carry out simulated “war games” against, specifically, Russia, along with China, Iran and North Korea. The drills are expected to run uniformed service members, civilians and contractors through the motions of staving off a cyber assault the likes of which each nation state will be equipped for — five to 10 years from now.
For decades in the Nevada desert, the military has run combat rehearsals with kinetic weapons such as jets and tanks, while Cyber Command, since coming to fruition in 2010, has simultaneously engaged in similar practice sessions. But this is the first time Congress has identified which foreign cyber adversaries the Pentagon must consider an imminent threat to the livelihood of U.S. citizens.
On the heels of recent cyberattacks that allowed hackers to gain unauthorized information from protected companies — including the high-profile breaches of the Office of Personnel Management and Sony Pictures Entertainment — Peter Singer, a strategist and senior fellow at the New America Foundation think tank, said the U.S. ought to be prepared for an online assault capable of crippling entire infrastructures.
“If there was a war with states like a China, Russia, Iran or North Korea, we’d learn ‘cyber war’ is far more than stealing Social Security numbers or email from gossipy Hollywood executives as too often it is used to describe,” he told Nextgov, “but the takedown of the modern military nervous system and Stuxnet-style digital weapons.”