Chinese Hacking: Why America Needs Tougher Cyber Security Laws

Cyber attacks have become a constant, daily battle for everyone across the globe. From individuals to businesses and governments, hackers are infiltrating the secure networks of our banking, communication, and intelligence systems.  However, new cyber warfare rules released by NATO on Tuesday declares government attacks on "civilians, hospitals, nuclear power plants, dams and dykes" may be considered acts of war if the intent is to cause injury, death, damage, and destruction.  NATO, unlike the United States, has proactively defined a new way to fight the enemy in an information age conflict. The manual’s editor, U.S. Naval War College Professor Michael Schmitt, stated in an interview that "everyone was seeing the Internet as the 'Wild, Wild West,'" and had "forgotten that international law applies to cyber weapons like it applies to any other weapons." The question now is whether Congress will heed the wisdom of their European allies and enact a cyber war rulebook for the United States.     

The world has rapidly changed as a result of information technology and war has not escaped the revolution. The fact that The United States is heavily dependent on digital networks for emergency services, energy supplies, weapons systems, and communication networks further exasperates the threat. An attack on any one of these networks could cause massive panic, injury, and even death. More to the point, without establishing a cyber war manual during peacetime, the United States would be unable to respond quickly and forcefully to a cyber attack. With Congressional approval required for the declaration of war and no current cyber war law, the process of enacting cyber war laws could jeopardize the national security of the United States.

Cyber attacks and theft cost United States businesses upwards of $46 million in damage and property in 2012, according to a report released by Ponemon Institute. The United States and American businesses can no longer afford to neglect defining and establishing cyber war regulations. In the face of cyber attacks the United States looks weak if Washington fails to respond.

NATO is the first to establish a set of rules for responding to cyber attacks by a state, warning "that online attacks could lead to full-blown military conflicts." The manual applies existing international law for warfare, part of which was established at the 1949 Geneva Convention, to digital and cyber attacks. The manual's central premise is that war doesn't stop being war just because it happens online. The manual also sets forth that neutral states are to remain neutral even in online attacks. This means a cyber attack cannot be launched using an IP address originating in a neutral state such as Switzerland, the same way traditional military operations cannot be launched from a neutral territory.

The United States needs to develop a similar cyber war manual as NATO in order to protect the national security of the United States and to maintain its global positions as the world’s military superpower.