Response to US attack – Cyber? | Charles Duelfer

Response to US attack – Cyber?

It is hard to imagine Moscow or Tehran or Damascus doing absolutely nothing in response to a US attack. Will it be Cyber? If I were Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, that’s what I would be talking about with President Putin.

Washington has telegraphed a kinetic attack against some set of Syrian targets. There will be no question who did it. Washington is advertising the size and duration of the attack. If, as leaks are suggesting, the attack is 2-3 days it would appear to be about the same size or smaller than the strikes that President Clinton ordered in December 1998 against Iraq when their cooperation with UN weapons inspectors was found incufficient.

But, what will Syria, and others, do to respond to the US? The reponse may ber less directly attributable–especially if the Russians or Iranians play a role.

One possibility is that we will experience, a real cyber attack that causes serious damage to US economic interests. The Syrian Cyber Army has claimed credit for hacking the NY Times twitter today. This is an area where covert aid from Russian or Tehran could provide maker a big difference and be a good option for those parties. Real damage could occur to the US and we probably would not be able to attribute the blame on Moscow or other capitals.

The consequences of such an attack could be surprisingly large and the American people mystified at the price they have paid. Then what will the Administration do? Will we respond against Syria only? Respond against its backers Moscow or Tehran? We may not be able to tell if they helped Syria or not. Imagine the simple case that a handful of the worlds best offensive cyber experts join Syrian hackers for a few days in Damascus. If you believe what experts say about US infrastructure vulnerabilities then we could suffer real damage and be hamstrung about how to respond. The White House could find itself trying to manage a very different problem and conversation in a week or two.

If may be they we discover we have been hit and have little opportunity to respond in a way that doesn’t involve some escalation along a never before travelled path of cyber attack conflict.

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