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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

FAA clears more planes after 5G fears

Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday it had approved nearly 80% of the U.S. commercial fleet to perform low-visibility landings at airports with new 5G services after fears of signal interference limited 5G rollout.

Why it matters: The FAA approvals will help provide more certainty after the agency raised fears that 5G signals could reduce the accuracy of certain equipment, known as radio altimeters, that helps planes land and take off in inclement weather.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
3 hours ago - Economy & Business

Peloton stock tanks on report of production halt

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Peloton stock fell by as much as 25% on Thursday, following a CNBC report that the connected fitness company will temporarily halt production on its bikes and treadmills.

Why it matters: Peloton is viewed by many as a proxy for consumer behavior in the pandemic era, as its popularity surged when gyms closed and people wanted to exercise at home.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: No evidence that healthy children, teens need boosters, WHO says — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older.
  5. Variant tracker