In October 2012 President Obama ordered overseas cyber targets be identified

In October 2012 President Obama ordered overseas cyber targets be identified

Today the Guardian published an internal government memo detailing directives concerning the US government’s definitions of various forms of cybersecurity, including offensive action.

As Glenn Greenwald notes in the Guardian’s piece, the memo also contains a dictum to “identify potential targets of national importance” where offensive cyber efforts can “offer a favorable balance of effectiveness and risk as compared with other instruments of national power.”

The government appears to define offensive cyber activity in the following way:


The phrase “intended to enable or produce cyber effects outside United States Government networks” is almost richly vague and understated, especially when one understands that all but a speck of the world is outside US government networks; quite simply most of the Internet is not internal-government fiber or other form of connection. This leaves most of the Internet open to potential offensive action, under the above definition.

Moving along, here is the nub of the memo that calls for the identification of targets that we could smack with our digital arm if so desired:


Little or no warnings. Potential effects ranging from subtle to severely damaging. Novelists have fodder for years.

The above information is in no way surprising, though it is most certainly embarrassing for the United States government – to be on paper caught so blatantly gearing up for cyber combat – during a time of high-tension with the Chinese government over hacking and general digital espionage.

Quoting back to Greenwald, “Obama’s move to establish a potentially aggressive cyber warfare doctrine will heighten fears over the increasing militarization of the internet.” True. But I think it’s best that we all realize that the age of the innocence of the Internet is utterly behind us; the days when the Web was more potential than reality, and its unexplored shores were more rumor than fact are over.

As recently uncovered US government surveillance projects detail, what you do is not private, period. And, perhaps even oddly more frustrating, you can’t even count on only having your own government spy on you.

One thing appears to be clear: when the next world war commences, expect the Internet to take one in the chin.

Top Image Credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis

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