For the first time, the Pentagon has decided that cyber attacks constitute an act of war, reports The Wall Street Journal. The U.S. military drafted a classified 30-page document concluding that the U.S. may respond to cyber attacks from foreign countries with traditional military force, citing the growing threat of hackers on U.S. infrastructure such as subways, electrical grids or nuclear reactors. "If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks," a military official told the Journal. While some say the policy is in keeping with the times, others worry that it could lead the country into war more easily.
"The next time someone wants to invent a casus belli against Iran, they can just point to a particularly successful hack," writes liberal bloger Marcy Wheeler. She envisions a hypothetical where the U.S. makes the case for war against Iran after a cyber attack, "ignoring all questions about appropriate retaliation for Stuxnet" (an anti-Iran computer virus rumored to have been created by Israel in cooperation with the U.S.).
But Stephen Shankland at CNET says the policy change is a long time coming. "The views shouldn't be a shock to anyone. Long gone are the days when computer networks weren't an essential part of the military, the economy, and the infrastructure of first-world countries," he writes. "Cyberattacks may not be as obvious as exploding bombs, and defenses may not be as obvious as machine gun nests. But particularly in military circles, where people are accustomed to seeing the world in offensive and defensive terms, cyberwar can hardly be seen as anything but a newer facet of regular war."