President George W. Bush has reportedly directed the U.S. government to develop a policy on waging cyber-warfare, but one security vendor suggested such tactics could backfire.
The Washington Post reported Friday that Bush signed a secret directive in July ordering the government to develop plans for cyberattacks against its enemies, the first such cyber directive. But security vendor mi2g Ltd. said cyber-warfare would hurt densely networked countries like the U.S. worse than countries like Iraq.
"Any state sponsoring the use of cyber-warfare will have to look closely at retaliation and threats to its digitally connected government and business targets," said mi2g Chairman and Chief Executive Officer D.K. Matai, in a statement. "When cyber attack blended with physical attack is used to disrupt or damage critical national infrastructure, there are counter-attacks which quickly follow suit."
The White House and U.S. Department of Defense had no immediate comment on any cyber-warfare plans. A White House spokesman said he wouldn't discuss military operations, adding that he couldn't confirm or deny the Bush directive. "I think it's common knowledge that we engage in counter-electronic measures when necessary," the spokesman added. "If we have people in harm's way, we'll do whatever's necessary to keep them safe."
The Post reported that although the Pentagon, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. National Security Agency have held months of talks on National Security Presidential Directive 16, the cyber-warfare policy is far from complete. The goal would be to shut down utilities and shut down systems such as radar.
Mi2g called such a plan a "timely initiative" and in November predicted a trend toward governments waging cyber-warfare against online terrorism. But Matai said that cyber-warfare activities launched by NATO against Serbia's telephone and power utilities in 1999 created a backlash.
"Targeted attacks on over 100 businesses in NATO member countries took place by hackers sympathetic to Serbia that were traced back to Russia and Eastern Europe," Matai said. "In the case of the looming attack on Iraq, the concern in blending cyber-warfare techniques would be the likely impact felt by the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia in particular from counter-cyber-attack which would inevitably follow suit from countries already known to originate significant hacker attacks."