Biden Warns That The Next Kinetic War Will Be The Result Of A Cyberattack, Which Is Stupid

from the stop! dept

The cyberwar hype has been going on for nearly a decade now. And, while it is very much the case that cybersecurity to defend from international actors is very much a real need, it’s also true that dangling the threat of cyberwarfare over the public’s heads has been purposefully done to excuse governmental power grabs at the military and intelligence agency levels. It’s also been true throughout this hype-fest that the US government has been practically begging for there to be a cyberwar in the first place… except that other nations mostly seem to play with this at the most minimal levels. And, in the past, the American government has indicated that real shooting wars may result from cyberwar activities.

Now, none of the above is meant to suggest that there can’t be a situation in which a foreign state actor engages in “cyber” actions so egregious that traditional military action would be warranted. Rather, the point is that such scenarios are both so egregious in their nature, and that they certainly haven’t occurred to date, that to make threats of shooting wars as a result seems like a massive overreaction.

Unless, of course, you’re President Joe Biden, in which case you walk in front of the Office for the Director of National Intelligence and assert with certainty that the next kinetic war will absolutely start as a result of a “cyber breach.”

“If we end up in a war, a real shooting war with a major power, it’s going to be as a consequence of a cyber breach,” the president said in a speech at the Office for the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees 18 US intelligence agencies.

Although he did not say who such a war might be fought against, Biden immediately name-checked Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, alleging that Russia was spreading misinformation ahead of the 2022 US midterm elections.

This is quite stupid for a variety of reasons. Let’s start with the most obvious: when politicians talk about conflicts between “major powers”, you can simply replace “major” with “nuclear” and it’s the same message. And if we’re talking about suffering a “cyber breach” conducted by a “nuclear power”, then proactively escalating the engagement rules into the kinetic warfare realm puts the entire world in a suddenly more dangerous place.

And this doesn’t even work from a level of deterrence either. First, nations like Russia and China have generally shown themselves to be largely un-deterrable in the cyberwarfare space. It’s not even entirely clear that our intelligence services are fully buttoned up on any given breach when it comes to who the attackers are and what level of state action is involved. For that to result in a kinetic war is, again, very stupid.

The statement also gives full permission to America’s rivals throughout the world to put out their own statements in kind. And does anyone seriously doubt that we are engaging in cyber breaches at some level against our rivals ourselves? So, given Biden’s stance, would it be morally correct for Russia or China to suspect America of some kind of intrusion… and start shooting? That’s really where we want to end up?

Somehow I doubt it. Instead, this appears to be good, old-fashioned American myopic thinking at work. We do entirely too much of this: try to put out deterrence or threats without understanding that the result will be nations throughout the world lobbing those same threats right back at us. And if all of that were to result in warfare, never mind nuclear warfare, that would be abhorrent.

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Comments on “Biden Warns That The Next Kinetic War Will Be The Result Of A Cyberattack, Which Is Stupid”

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16 Comments
TKnarrsays:

I actually think Biden’s right, the trigger that sets things in motion for the next major war will be some sort of cyber-attack. Not because the US or any other power intends to start a shooting war over it, but just because that event started a chain of misunderstandings and judgemental errors that will result in the shooting starting. Remember that the last time we were on the verge of a nuclear war (1995, Boris Yeltsin had actually retrieved the launch codes and was prepared to issue launch orders) it was because of the launch of a Norwegian research rocket. And Russia had even been told about the launch beforehand, the information simply hadn’t been passed up the chain of command. My guess is it’ll be the same thing: a cyber-attack (or more than one) gets everyone finger-pointing and causes disruptions that could be taken advantage of, then something else happens on one side that gets misinterpreted by the other side, someone in the chain decides that if they wait long enough for solid confirmation it’ll be too late to act, or a couple of opposing pilots get a little too rambunctious and an accidental missile release triggers itchy trigger fingers on both sides, or an innocent vehicle gets misidentified as a threat and shot which triggers retaliation…

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Re:

"Remember that the last time we were on the verge of a nuclear war (1995, Boris Yeltsin had actually retrieved the launch codes and was prepared to issue launch orders) it was because of the launch of a Norwegian research rocket."

This is basically the scenario; An internet-mediated attack bearing false data to key systems will end up resulting in a weak or uncertain leader at the time earnestly believing the US is under attack and the window of opportunity for retaliation or defense is closing fast.

So Biden is right in his conclusion, even if his presented arguments seem to be mix of spin and hyperbole.

I can’t help but think Biden is making these noises in preparation for an IT power grab – more war on encryption, perhaps, or fishing for that vaunted internet kill switch.

Any real and actual defense online will have to be created through decent secops. Air-gapping every key system, keeping all vital networks insulated. Problem being that’s gonna cost both resources and money which isn’t going to be in anybodys budget for a while…

James Burkhardtsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Highly disagree. The type of deliberate attack you describe seems intended to generate a nuclear retaliation. Thats what you imply by the statement ?the window for retaliation or defense is closing fast?. If we get data that a sudden incoming attack so overwhelming that we had to commit before verifying, or would provoke a nuclear response. If a near peer nuclear armed nation intends to start a nuclear war, they?ll just launch.

Your arguement might be that a third party would be the attacker, but still it would not be a kinetic war. We?d be a cinder before we ever got to boots on the ground.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

"Thats what you imply by the statement ?the window for retaliation or defense is closing fast?."

Not really, now. Consider the following scenarios;

  • Information that a chinese vessel in the straits of taiwan has opened fire and sunk a US submarine, said submarine being paralyzed and out of contact because the sub operators are all looking at a ransomware splash screen. At a time where other chinese vessels are within firing range of american surface vessels. Captains are posed with the scenario of a mexican standoff where the opposition has already fired for effect. US president receives information that China has launched a full-scale invasion on Taiwan. What orders does he give?
  • Drones or missiles sent to target ISIS holdouts receive new coordinates and go hit key Syrian targets instead. Syria objects vehemently and Russia walks in to defend it’s ally. Commander on the spot receives orders to target russian troops and HQ.

Sure, a presumed attack with zebras would generate the skynet doomsday scenario, but there are plenty of military acts of aggression or presumed defense which could be prompted by a malicious 3rd party usurping command and control in key places.

It’s not an implausible scenario and I’ll eat my hat if every nation with a stable of hackers isn’t investigating this as an option.

But as I said I’m more inclined to believe in Biden blowing this risk out of proportion in preparation for yet another online control grab. Obama’s "internet kill switch", for instance, or another round fired in the war against encryption.

Anonymoussays:

And Techdirt is complicit in aiding and abetting Biden Trolls

While Fast and Furious is still happening, and the corrupt Biden Administration gets to shove that under the rug(with a stooge Jan 6th committee, setup my Nanci Pelosi who’s complicit in Fast and Furious, among others, i.e. Eric Holder) because Techdirt’s level of information is so low(because they don’t actually do investigative journalism), they’ll pitch Biden for president ignoring(censor "monetize") any revelation by anyone in comments pointing out his corruption with trolls, alledging Jan 6th as an attack, BLM as a non-violent extortionist criminal gang that stole the copyright of the Trevon Martin Family and slander them as Trumpers.

While Techdirts editor&chief gets fat on advertising monetized by google for censoring conservative comments and hires more non-investigative "journalists" to write hit-pieces on Trump. But If it wasn’t true. Mike Masnick wouldn’t have dyed his hair blue and bowed to google to stoop Techdirt’s articles to nothing more than bathroom reading material.

All the while, Biden loses his ability to rationalize and speak, and Kamala Harris avoids Texas border security, lies about going to do doing anything about it, secretly giving a pass to criminal illegal aliens into the country and bus them into counties and states in an attempt to change the election results in the upcoming elections(so long as voter ID is skirted).

What’s pathetic about this is. Techdirt used to be(USED TO BE) a great place to read articles that were well-sourced and unbiased. Now, it’s crap like this article.

I bet Timothy Geigner worked so hard to investigate how Biden Warns That The Next Kinetic War Will Be The Result Of A Cyberattack, that this it’s somehow worth reading over actually revealing Biden’s corruption. But that’s not Techdirts style is it? NOPE! Gotta write trash articles and dismiss and ignore (not even investigate and slander those who point it out) Biden’s corruption.

Bring on the troll comments!

Roy_Hinkleysays:

Nothing new here...what's the big deal?

Not sure where the freakout is coming from. This is an old hat, and Biden is doing his job clearly communicating the defense posture of the United States (and its allies) to those belligerent adversaries who have systematically rejected and derailed attempts at clarifying and formalizing meaningful international norms around cyber.

In 1996 The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has provided, under the concept of self-defense codified in Article 51 of the UN Charter, within the limits of proportional response doctrine, and excluding otherwise prohibited weapons, there are no legal prescriptions authorizing or prohibiting a nation from responding in self-defense using any weapon of their choice. In 2001 it ruled that UN Article 22, ?Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts,? allows countermeasures, which are otherwise unlawful actions taken by one state against another in response to an unlawful act in order to compel the offending state to terminate the unlawful activity and/or make reparations.

Remember when, at the 3rd meeting of GGE at the UN in 2017, an attempt to clarify how these norms apply to Internet Communication Technologies (ICT) was defeated (most certainly by the Russia/China coalitions) and Cuban rep Miguel Rodr?gueza said, ?We consider unacceptable the formulations contained in the draft, aimed to establish equivalence between the malicious use of ICTs and the concept of ?armed attack? ?,? who then ALSO rejected the application of international humanitarian law to ICT, citing an objection that ?it would legitimize a scenario of war and military actions in the context of ICT?.

So, according to this opposition coalition, no matter what harm ICTs cause to a nation’s infrastructure or non-combatants there should be no international legal ramifications rising to the level of war/self-defense. Now that’s stupid, unless ICTs are your favorite weapon to undermine your powerful adversaries in the western democracies, in which case it’s brilliant.

US rep Markoff said ?I am coming to the unfortunate conclusion that those who are unwilling to affirm the applicability of these international legal rules and principles believe their States are free to act in or through cyberspace to achieve their political ends with no limits or constraints on their actions?.

Furthermore, the NATO manual, a product arising through debate among international legal scholars and technical experts under the observation and advice of organizations such as the International Red Cross and submitted for peer review to many countries, has established cyber as "a domain of warfare" no different than land or sea.

The 2017 version (Tallinn Manual 2.0: International Law Applicable to Cyber Operations) tries to clarify what might constitute an ?armed attack? under the meaning of international law when applied to the cyber realm.

In the absence of international treaties that specifically deal with the rules of war (jus ad bello) as they apply to cybersecurity, the Tallinn Manual provides legal opinions (opinio juris) to address the important questions of when a nation has the right to conduct acts of warfare (jus ad bellum), the constraints of necessity and proportionality, and how traditional terms like ?use of force? might translate from the physical to the electronic domains of national defense. These include the thorny questions of attribution of individual actions to the state and questions of jurisdiction.

International agreements are persistently blocked by Russia, China, and other authoritarian regimes who are pursuing strategies to legitimize government control of the internet within their borders against political dissent and foreign influence. If they were passed, they would also apply to the US, which suggests that we are not routinely engaging in unprovoked warlike cyber activity such as you suggest. This is different than espionage, which according to international law is legal for everyone to do.

Communicating the clear intentions of the United States to reserve the right to retaliate (as Biden did), however and whenever it sees fit (within existing international norms) is not "stupid": it provides a clear warning to our adversaries that they better be damned careful or risk getting a hell of a lot more than they bargained for. This should help prevent mis-steps, not provoke them as you seem to suggest.

Now, if you just want to say "war is stupid" in general, OK…sure I’m with you there. But to latch on to these comments by Biden as somehow different than what’s been going on for 15-20 years is mis-informed. And at the end of the day, no matter how much you want to criticize the US, we all better hope that US-based democratic and rights-based values would prevail in any conflict if you want these kinds of discussions to continue.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Nothing new here...what's the big deal?

Doesn’t self defense need to, you know actually be effective at stopping an attacker? You cannot claim self defense if you start smashing their car or hitting their spouse in response.

US Cyberwar doctrines are fundamentally willfully ignorant, partially owing to their air force background. They still insist that the best defense is a good offense despite the situation being fundamentally different. You can’t just create a vaccine against AK-47 bullets and distribute it to all soldiers in a day but you can patch vulnerabilities. Really it is closer to biological warfare if anything – you may not know if the source is an attacker or a victim.

Darkness Of Coursesays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Nothing new here...what's the big deal?

You have missed the point.

Someone shutdowns the Eastern electrical grid, at the same time something else occurs. Whatever else doesn’t matter, but their reaction will be augmented, not positively, with their concerns about half the country losing power someone overreacts, and then things scale up. Quickly.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Re: Nothing new here...what's the big deal?

"And at the end of the day, no matter how much you want to criticize the US, we all better hope that US-based democratic and rights-based values would prevail in any conflict if you want these kinds of discussions to continue."

Before GWB I might have joined in that hope. After Trump I actively reject it; The US has a long way to go before anyone can trust it to possess and exert ANY kind of "value" other than the strictly self-serving and unprincipled kind. For the last twenty years the US mode of interaction with the rest of the world can be kindly summarized as "fucking it up for fun and profit".

With 25-30% of your citizenry actively rejecting any form of democratic or rights-based values and one of your major parties currently complicit in a coup attempt to abolish those values, you aren’t the folks we want to invite to any party, let alone lead it.

Hitler had to make do with 12% of the citizenry being bent to his cause before he could topple the vestiges of the Weimar. We’re all just lucky Trump and the current GOP leadership are maliciously and self-servingly inept rather than merely ideologically bound to hatred.

"This is an old hat, and Biden is doing his job clearly communicating the defense posture of the United States (and its allies) to those belligerent adversaries who have systematically rejected and derailed attempts at clarifying and formalizing meaningful international norms around cyber."

…and the last major time the US got involved in such standards was the war against encryption when the US came close to making owning a computer and learning to program unlawful before saner heads prevailed.

Again; The US has no credibility. None. You pissed that away with the neocon agenda of hegemony, the various attempts to usurp federal control over online communication, and the bundle of actively malicious US-centered provisions snuck into international treaties.

Old Hat? Yes, Biden is making the same noises Clinton did, and GWB, whenever they prepped to launch a malicious whopper of human rights-hostile legislation.

Darkness Of Coursesays:

Between opposing powers

Which means America v Russia/Putin.

Putin has been wreaking havoc with ransomware, cyber attacks, and disinformation. Has been so for years. Biden is essentially saying, we know who is doing this, and we have the means to respond physically.

Biden has informed Putin directly, reign it in, or there will be consequences. Now, if Putin doesn’t and Biden doesn’t respond America will be the same old America, a paper tiger unless its overthrowing governments or ensuring America’s oil rights.

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