Two separate but related events took place in recent days that individually were important moments in the rapid evolution of the cyber threat domain. When you combine these two events, clearly you can see their significance.
Both events serve as strong indicators of the concern over cyber attacks, as well as a barometer for the current state of digital conflict.
The first event occurred when President Obama included cyber in his State-of-the-Union address. Near the end of the address he stated: “To stay one step ahead of our adversaries, I have already sent this Congress legislation that will secure our country from the growing danger of cyber-threats.”
This appears to be the first time the threat of cyber attacks to the country or cybersecurity at large has been addressed in the State-of-the-Union message. You have to admit, for an issue to be included in the State-of-the-Union presidential address, it has to be way up there in terms of importance.
The second event occurred when retired Admiral Mike McConnell, a former director of the National Security Agency publicly acknowledged in an interview with Reuters last week that the United States has used its cyber attack capability against other nations and that those efforts were successful. Asked whether the United States has used its cyber attack capability, McConnell said, “Yes.” Asked if it worked, he also replied, “Yes.”
McConnell, now vice chairman at Booz Allen Hamilton in charge of cyber activities, did not elaborate on the use of a cyber attack capability, but raised his own questions, saying: “Do we have the ability to attack, degrade or destroy? Sure. If you do that, what are the consequences? That is the question,” he said.
I was not able to find a public disclosure such as this by any other high ranking intelligence executive (current or former).
Combine these two events and one could conclude that the dangers posed by acts of cyber aggression and the threat of digital conflict has reached a new level and now has gained a heightened prominence in the minds of the executive branch and in our military and intelligence organizations.