Cyberwar: Who's been attacked? Who are attackers?

The US is often a target of cyberattacks, but its government is also known to be an attacker. The Pentagon's Plan X, moreover, will bolster US capabilities to wage cyberwar.

Jim Urquhart/Reuters/File
In this September 2011 file photo, an analyst works at a Department of Homeland Security cybersecurity defense lab, which is part of the Idaho National Laboratory. The US government is currently working to enhance its cyberattack capabilities.

The United States is a major target of cybercrime and cyber-attacks, but it has plenty of company. Attacks are known to have occurred within the past year in nations as diverse as Saudi Arabia, Britain, India, Lebanon, Syria, and, of course, Iran, according to media accounts. The actual list is probably much longer.

And in the case of Iran, the US is known to be a perpetrator. The New York Times last year revealed that President Obama approved a cybersabotage program called Operation Olympic Games, which included accelerating the Stuxnet cyberweapon attack on Iran's nuclear fuel facilities, slowing progress on a program that the West suspects is destined to produce a nuclear weapon.

Since the Stuxnet worm came to light, it has become clear that other cyberintrusions directed at Iran are under way.

Moreover, the US is pioneering the development of offensive cyber-weapons, with the Pentagon announcing in October that it is launching Plan X in a bid to build the cyberwarfare capabilities "needed to dominate the cyber battlespace." The very existence of Plan X signifies that cyberwar capabilities are now part of the US military playbook and that the Pentagon will issue contracts to develop cyber-weapons just as it does to build fighter jets or submarines.

All of this is occurring with little oversight from Congress and almost no public debate, critics charge. Some liken the US action to the owner of a glass house being foolishly determined to throw stones. Others insist that the era of cyberwarfare has already dawned and that it is incumbent upon US officials to ensure that the country not only is protected from cyberattack, but also has the ability to strike if needed.

"Certainly we have thought Stuxnet was very likely to be a US-Israel operation – and that assumption has now turned out to be the case," Stewart Baker, a lawyer and former senior official at the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, told the Monitor in June. "In some ways, I do feel as though we've been living in a glass house for years, and now we've decided we're going to invent rocks."

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