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Pentagon: Hack attacks can be act of war

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For the first time, the Pentagon has formally concluded that computer sabotage carried out by another nation can constitute an act of war that warrants a response of traditional military force, according to published media reports.

The determination, included in the Pentagon's first ever “formal cyber strategy,” represents an attempt to address the growing reliance on computers and computer networks by military and civilians alike, according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the circulation of the 30-page classified document. The policy is in part intended to act as a deterrent by showing other countries there could be serious consequences for attacks that target gas pipelines, military networks and other infrastructure considered critical to national security.

“If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks,” the WSJ quoted an unnamed military official as saying.

According to NBC News, not every attack would lead to military retaliation. To qualify, hacks would have to be carry the same kinds of threats to American lives, commerce, or infrastructure as traditional military attacks. And even then, because it's often impossible to detect the true origins of so-called cyber attacks, commanders would have to present indisputable evidence that a particular country was behind a specific incident.

One idea under consideration is known as “equivalence.” It holds that a computer attack that results in the same level of death, destruction or high-level disruption produced in a traditional military attack could be grounds for “use of force,” under established military doctrines.

Earlier this month, the Obama administration released its own policy that put the world on notice that hack attacks directed against US assets might be met with military action.

The reports come as a UK military official admitted his country is developing a toolbox of offensive hacking weapons that could be used against other countries. A few days earlier, China admitted that it has poured huge amounts of resources into an elite hacking team dubbed the Blue Army. ®

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