Analysis & Opinions - The New York Times

With Hacking, the United States Needs to Stop Playing the Victim

| Dec. 23, 2020

There is indignant howling over what is surely Russia’s role in infiltrating, again, the networks of the U.S. government and corporations — this time through a tainted software update by the company SolarWinds. Politicians of both parties have called it a virtual act of war. “America must retaliate, and not just with sanctions,” Senator Marco Rubio said.

This recalls Shakespeare’s line in “Hamlet” about the lady protesting too much.

The United States is, of course, engaged in the same type of operations at an even grander scale. We are active participants in an ambient cyberconflict that rages, largely unseen and unacknowledged, across the digital globe. This is a struggle that we can’t avoid, and there is no need to play the victim. Just as we use cybertools to defend our national interests, others will use cyberweapons against us.

The National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency exist to break into foreign information systems and steal secrets, and they are damn good at it. They, along with the Defense Department, regularly use cybertools to purloin intelligence from servers across the world and to place foreign information systems and industrial infrastructure at risk. Ones and zeros can be more effective weapons than bombs and missiles. The exposure of Stuxnet, the Snowden leaks and the theft of C.I.A. cybertools revealed the sophistication and extent of capabilities attributed to the United States.

The Pentagon’s cyberwar force, known as Cyber Command, overtly acknowledges, through its “defend forward” doctrine, that the government will target foreign entities and information systems to fight cyberattacks. In November 2018, Cyber Command reportedly disrupted the internet access of the computers of Russia’s Internet Research Agency, the organization responsible for the disinformation campaign during the 2016 U.S. midterm elections. In 2019, in response to Russian cyberincursions into the U.S. energy grid, Cyber Command reportedly placed malware tools on Russia systems that could enable the United States to turn out the lights in Moscow should a conflict between the two nations arise.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kolbe, Paul.“With Hacking, the United States Needs to Stop Playing the Victim.” The New York Times, December 23, 2020.