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Hack attacks on US could spark military action

White House draws line in the silicon

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The Obama Administration has put the world on notice that hack attacks directed against US assets could be met with military action.

“When warranted, the United States will respond to hostile acts in cyberspace as we would to any other threat to our country,” the White House said in a long-expected policy, titled The International Strategy for Cyberspace. “All states possess an inherent right to self-defense, and we recognize that certain hostile acts conducted through cyberspace could compel actions under the commitments we have with our military treaty partners.

“We reserve the right to use all necessary means – diplomatic, informational, military, and economic – as appropriate and consistent with applicable international law, in order to defend our Nation, our allies, our partners, and our interests.”

The administration went on to say military force would be used only after all other options have been exhausted.

The warning is in addition to a push for a three-year mandatory imprisonment sentence for attacks against critical infrastructure systems.

The 30-page document, which was released on Monday, aims to establish a set of international computer security standards that are binding on both governmental agencies and US diplomatic partners. Those who fall short could face consequences.

Among other things, it promises to provide assistance to developing countries that want to improve the security of their networks and calls on countries to stop being “safe havens” for internet-based crime.

As one retired US general has already conceded, not all attacks on government networks can accurately be considered an act of war. What's more, even when they can, it's often impossible to know which country is behind them.

A PDF of the policy is here. ®

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