At the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, former NSA Director Michael Hayden examines the concept of cyber-war and the role attendees need to play.
As a former National Security Agency director, retired
Gen. Michael Hayden has seen firsthand the sometimes
nebulous realities of cyber-warfare.
During his keynote July 29 at the Black Hat security conference in Las
Vegas, Hayden discussed those realities,
emphasizing the importance of clearly defining what cyber-war really is.
The question of what constitutes a cyber-attack and how the nation
should respond has become an open topic of discussion during the Obama
administration, which declared cyber-security
a national security priority
in 2009. But as reports of targeted attacks
against smart grids and the disclosure of documents about the war in
Afghanistan on WikiLeaks show, the line between cyber-espionage, attacks and
other activities can sometimes
be difficult to draw.
The term cyber-war is often thrown around, but distinctions must be made
between activities meant to disrupt, degrade or destroy networks and other
activity such as spying, argued Hayden, who also served as director of the
In June, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander, who also heads up the U.S. Cyber
about the need for the United States
to have the proper framework in place to guide its responses to cyber-attacks.
"What the department is looking at [is], What are the standing rules of
engagement that we have?" Alexander said at the time. "Do those
comport with the laws, the responsibilities that we have? Can we clearly
articulate those so that people know and expect what will happen? And I think
we have to look at it in two different venues, what we're doing here in
peacetime and what we need to do in wartime to support those units that are in
In his Black Hat keynote, Hayden said for the military there have
traditionally been four domains: ground, air, water and space. Cyber-space
constitutes a fifth domain-one in which the advantage has been given to
attackers, and there is almost nothing inherent in the domain that really plays
to the defense.
God made four domains, the IT community made the last one, he said.
"God did a better a job," he quipped, drawing laughter from the
Comparing the cyber-world to the "north German plain" as lacking
natural barriers, Hayden said he believes the security community over time will
fill in the metaphorical rivers and hills necessary to provide defenses for the
Looming large in that landscape is China,
which has been the focus of numerous allegations of cyber-attacks against the United
States in recent years.
Describing Chinese cyber-espionage as being "magnificent in its
breadth," Hayden said the country should focus on strengthening its
"Without going into great detail, we're actually pretty good at this,
and the Chinese are not the only ones doing it," he said.