Lt. General Paul Nakasone, head of U.S. Cyber Commmand. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty

In recent months, the Pentagon has begun taking a more aggressive posture in its approach to cyber conflicts, seeking to slow attacks by taking the fight to enemy networks. But experts worry that approach could escalate cyber conflicts in ways the U.S. may not be prepared to absorb.

How we got here: Cyber Command, the Department of Defense's unified command for cyberwarfare, was conceived under President George W. Bush. It has been elevated in the chain of command under President Trump, who gave it increased autonomy as part of a Defense-wide effort to give the military more agility.

Why it matters: Under the new approach, there is "a very real danger of escalation," said Lisa Monaco, a former assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, via email.

  • Monaco notes that there are no international standards for what types of cyber actions constitute warfare , but other countries will tend to see what the U.S. does as acceptable.
  • There is no way to insure that another country will interpret actions the U.S. takes on its network as defensive.

The topic of the newly unleashed Cyber Command re-emerged Monday in a book excerpt in the New York Times by its cybersecurity reporter David Sanger.

What we're missing: "This is far from a cure-all to our cyber problems," said Michael Morell, former deputy director of the CIA. He sees two big hang-ups:

  • First, hackers often route attacks through other people's servers, meaning disabling an attack from Russia might mean damaging a server in England — an act of war against England, not Russia.
  • "Second, using our capabilities to attack the attackers is often not that effective because of the ease with which adversaries can move from one server to another," said Morell.

The best defense is a good defense: The best deterrent to a cyberattack, said Peter Singer, strategist at the New America Foundation, is "demonstrating that attacks won't work" — which can be as simple as hardening systems.

  • "If you believe that [offensive] kind of activity is necessary, then you must increase your defenses as well because other countries and groups will start carrying out these actions against the U.S.," said Michael Daniel, former President Obama's cybersecurity coordinator.
  • The White House has, in recent months, eliminated the cybersecurity coordinator position, which may limit the effectiveness of federal agencies' efforts to protect the nation from attacks.

Go deeper

Michael Cohen taken back into federal custody

Michael Cohen arrives at his Park Avenue apartment on May 21 in New York City. Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump's disgraced former personal lawyer Michael Cohen is heading back to prison after refusing the conditions of his home confinement, according to two people familiar with the situation.

Details: A New York Post report earlier this month placed Cohen out at a restaurant in New York with his wife, while one of the sources said that more broadly he refused to wear an ankle bracelet.

U.S. sanctions Chinese officials over Uighur human rights abuses

Photo: Xinhua/Liu Jie via Getty Images

The Treasury Department announced Thursday that the U.S. has sanctioned four Chinese Communist Party officials and the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau for human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

Why it matters: The sanctions designations, pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Act passed by Congress in 2016, mark a significant escalation in the Trump administration's response to the Chinese government's detainment of over 1 million Uighurs in internment camps.

Updated 37 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 12,118,667 — Total deaths: 551,271 — Total recoveries — 6,649,930Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 3,081,383 — Total deaths: 132,570 — Total recoveries: 953,420 — Total tested: 37,431,666Map.
  3. Public health: Cases rise in 33 statesFlorida reports highest single-day coronavirus death toll since pandemic began.
  4. Science: World Health Organization acknowledges airborne transmission of coronavirus.
  5. Travel: Young adults are most likely to have moved due to coronavirus.