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Expert in Cyberwarfare Welcomes Obama's Long-Awaited Executive Orders

A necessary warning, he says, that the U.S. may respond to cyber attacks with devastating force

Release Date: June 30, 2011

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President Obama's new cyberwar policy will finally put some teeth into U.S. deterrent strategies, says cyberwarfare expert and ethicist Randall Dipert.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- University at Buffalo cyberwarfare expert and ethicist Randall Dipert, PhD, is relieved that in the long-awaited executive orders on cyberwarfare, President Obama is finally using cyberattacks and other computer-based operations as part of routine U.S. espionage against our enemies in other countries.

"Much of this policy is likely to remain classified," Dipert says, "but at least now we know the U.S. will consider 'all possible measures' in responding to an attack on vital U.S. interests, and that such measures will include serious cyber counterattacks."

Dipert, C.S. Peirce Professor of American Philosophy at UB, is a 2011-12 External Fellow of the Stockdale Center at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, which studies the ethical and policy implications of cyberwarfare. In July he will be an invited speaker at a specialized conference on this topic supported by the UNESCO Chair in Information and Computer Ethics in collaboration with the Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship Program. He also will meet with cyberwar experts at the Center for Emerging Technologies of National Security and Intelligence at Notre Dame University.

"There is a definite advantage in having, and announcing, our plans in this regard," says Dipert, who has worked extensively with cyberwarfare experts here and abroad and has previously expressed concern over the lack of clear and accepted behavioral expectations for cyberwarfare, such as are described for conventional warfare by the Geneva Conventions.

"The new policy will finally put some teeth into U.S. deterrent strategies," he says, "and China, North Korea -- and other nations that have launched cyber attacks on U.S. interests -- have been served notice that we will respond with force, and, if necessary, with devastating force.

"To date," Dipert says, "these nations have just denied launching their attacks (although virtually all experts knew they had done so) and they have not had much to fear by way of consequences. Not anymore."

He says the policy also serves as a public announcement that the United States is once more taking the lead in a major and expensive form of warfare.

"For good or ill, not since the early days of the Cold War have our Western allies been as dependent on the U.S. as they will be in this era of cyberwar attacks and skirmishes," Dipert says.

"While all of our allies have increasingly robust defensive cyber security initiatives, many of them, except perhaps Israel, have limited offensive capabilities. So it is clear that the U.S., among the Western powers, will be at the forefront of developing and employing cyberwarfare capabilities, especially deterring other nations' cyberattacks."

As for the cost, Dipert says, "Unfortunately it will not be cheap. An entirely new form of weaponry is evolving at exactly the time the U.S. has been hoping to reduce defense outlays.

"But ultimately, cyber defenses and weaponry will be cheaper than aircraft carriers and their flotillas, and not as physically dangerous," he says, "and we also can hope that our allies will share, more than they have recently, some of the costs of defending the industrialized democracies."

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