Most of us are content keeping hackers away with a firewall and decent password. But the Pentagon isn't nearly content, and in a new report, insists we should keep our nuclear arsenal ready for Internet retaliation. What could go wrong?
The report, "Resilient Military Systems and the Advanced Cyber Threat," was prepared by the Department of Defense's Defense Science Board, and over the course of 138 pages makes one very clear point: if China ever hacks us, "Protect the Nuclear Strike as a Deterrent." The phrase is repeated again and again—the word "nuclear" appears 113 times in a report ostensibly dealing with computer warfare. The entire thing is riddled with jargon, euphemism, and rosy military metaphor—climbing the ladder of deterrence!—but the notion that American nukes could (and should!) be part of the "cyber war" equation (and insulated against any electronic disruption) is unequivocal.
Let's put it plainly: China should know that we have nukes, tons of 'em, and if China's stellar hacker platoons ever tried to, say, bring down an American satellite, destabilize a dam, or switch off an enormous chunk of the power grid as part of an open military attack, they should be thinking about our nuclear missiles coming back in return. The US government has already said that it'd consider internet-based offensives an act of war that'd have IRL consequences, but nuking as a response to DDoS has never been so explicit. "The United States would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in 'extreme circumstances,'" the report says. And that's always been the case: you nuke us, we'll nuke you. But now the definition of what circumstances are extreme is entirely remade: "Presumably one would characterize a catastrophic Tier V-VI adversary cyber attack on the United States as 'extreme circumstances.'"