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Bruce Schneier, Marcus Ranum debate the realities of cyberwar

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As I write this, government spokespeople are making accusations that China is sponsoring penetrations and attacks against U.S. government agencies, including the DoD. I don't think the government has a lot of credibility in this area, but if we're going to start throwing around those accusations, we ought to clarify at what point we're going to start to treat government-sponsored penetrations as more than Internet hijinks. When is it proper to make formal accusations of espionage, and when are you dealing with an act of war? This vagary makes me uncomfortable, because politicians have a long history of making stupid decisions about gray areas.

I am not one to run around yelling "the sky is falling," and I don't think we're yet at a point when we are likely to come under a cyberattack. But, as the world's most technological superpower, and a country whose popularity is on the wane, we're the most likely target. I'd like to see a government policy on how the U.S. will respond in the event of a state-sponsored computer attack, and whether the U.S. will (I hope it won't!) consider other nations' civilian computer infrastructures as legitimate targets. It might help reduce the likelihood of attacks, as our stated policy on the use of nuclear weapons has (arguably) affected other nations' policies on threatening nuclear engagement with the U.S.

It seems ridiculous

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to equate a silly thing like attacks on computers with use of nuclear weapons, but if we stay on our current curve of computerizing everything and connecting it to the Internet, there may come a time when we'll wish we'd clarified some of these issues back when it wasn't such a big deal. Like now.

This was first published in November 2007

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