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Subject NSA Chief: Rules of War Apply to Cyberwar, Too
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In June 2011, the Pentagon acknowledged the existence of a list of secret weapons and offensive capabilities but didn’t detail what the items were. Probably the most famous cyber weapon of all time, the Stuxnet worm that crippled Iranian nuclear enrichment at the Natanz facility in 2010, remains officially unattributed despite wide suspicion that it was built and deployed by the United States, Israel, or both. 

In the tightly controlled discussion about cyber weapons, this counts as a step toward transparency.

The Pentagon keeps its rapidly expanding cyber arsenal almost entirely secret, which helps keep U.S. capabilities potent but also hinders the public’s ability to meaningfully discuss their use and costs. The development of new worms or viruses doesn’t show up in the President’s annual budget request in the same way as does money for jets and tanks; and cyber weapons don’t grace the cover of magazines.

Is there a way to discuss publicly what the future of cyber operations will look like? Defense One recently put the question to Adm. Michael Rogers, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, at the Navy League’s Sea Air Space conference outside of Washington, D.C.

Rogers indicated, unsurprisingly, that full transparency will remain impossible. But he also opened up, ever so slightly, in promising that Cyber Command would follow international norms in determining how the U.S. uses what are sometimes called offensive cyber capabilities. “Remember, anything we do in the cyber arena … must follow the law of conflict. Our response must be proportional, must be in line with the broader set of norms that we’ve created over time. I don’t expect cyber to be any different,” he said.

Rogers framed the development of cyber weapons as simply the next evolutionary step in warfare, replete with all the ethical concerns that accompanied other milestones in weapons development. “I’m sure there were huge reactions to the development of mass firepower in the 1800s as a new kind of warfighting implement. Cyber represents change, a different technical application to attempt to achieve some of the exact same effects, just do it in a different way. Like those other effects, I think, over time, we’ll have a broad discussion in terms of our sense of awareness, both in terms of capabilities as well as limitations,” he said.

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