Recently, hackers that were traced back to Russia intruded into the email system of the Join Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. The Defense Department had to take it offline to “cleanse” the system. A Pentagon official said on the condition of anonymity that it was a “spearphishing attack” traced back to Russia.
Deterrence isn’t effective against cyber attacks
Earlier this year, the Defense Secretary Ashton Carter blamed Russian hackers for a cyber attack on an unclassified U.S. military network. Russian hackers had also gained access to President Barack Obama’s emails, in what the New York Times described as a “more intrusive and worrisome” hack than the White House first acknowledged.
International security experts have argued that Russia has revived Cold War against the West by threatening nuclear attacks and bullying the smaller NATO members. Moscow realizes that the West has strong “deterrence” in terms of military might and nuclear arsenal. But the “deterrence” thing doesn’t work against cyber attacks.
No country has a “deterrence” against cyber attacks because of the level of uncertainty about who is behind the attack. There is little or no evidence that the Russian government ordered a particular attack. Did hackers receive an official order to carry out attacks? Or loyalists acted on their own? Or worse, hackers from some other country just spoofed a Russian IP address?
How the U.S. can respond to Russia
What can the U.S. do in response? It has already imposed massive sanctions against Moscow. It has already stepped up military presence in Eastern Europe along the Russian border, only to see the Russian rhetoric getting louder. Why would you want a military conflict with a nuclear-armed nation that is hell-bent to launch a nuclear strike even in a minor conflict?
U.S. can do only two things, says Heather Roff of the Slate. One is to “name and shame” Russia. Another is to indulge into a cyber tit-for-tat. In that case, Washington may risk losing an advantage. Cyber attacks exploit the loopholes in software, hardware, and networks. Once the U.S. exploits that vulnerability to attack Russian systems, Moscow may fix it and that loophole can no longer be exploited.