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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

House passes bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday

Juneteenth march on June 19, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

The House voted 415-14 on Wednesday to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

The big picture: All those voting against the measure were Republicans. The vote comes one day after the Senate unanimously approved the bill and three days before the holiday.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Group of 20 bipartisan senators back $1.2T infrastructure framework

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) arrives for a meeting with Senate Budget Committee Democrats in the Mansfield Room at the U.S. Capitol building on June 16, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Majority Leader and Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee are meeting to discuss how to move forward with the Biden Administrations budget proposal. Photo: Samuel Corum / Getty Images

A group of 10 Democratic and 10 Republican senators (the "G20") tasked with negotiating an infrastructure deal with the White House has released a statement in support of a $1.2 trillion framework.

Why it matters: Details regarding the plan have not yet been released, but getting 10 Republicans on board means the bill could get the necessary 60 votes to pass.

DOJ drops criminal probe, civil lawsuit against John Bolton over Trump book

Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The Justice Department has closed its criminal investigation into whether President Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton disclosed classified information with his tell-all memoir, “The Room Where it Happened," according to a source with direct knowledge.

Why it matters: The move comes a year after the Trump administration tried to silence Bolton by suing him in federal court, claiming he breached his contract by failing to complete a pre-publication review for classified information. Prosecutors indicated they had reached a settlement with Bolton to drop the lawsuit in a filing on Wednesday.