White House wants 'swift, transparent consequences' for malicious cyber acts, new National Cyber Strategy says

New strategy calls for international norms for cyber deterrence.

September 20, 2018, 4:25 PM

In its newly published National Cyber Strategy, the Trump administration says it plans to work with international partners to develop agreed-upon “swift, transparent consequences” in hopes of deterring malicious behavior online from the likes of Russia and China, in addition to its own new aggressive use of cyber weapons.

“As the United States continues to promote consensus on what constitutes responsible state behavior in cyberspace, we must also work to ensure that there are consequences for irresponsible behavior that harms the United States and our partners,” the 26-page document says under the heading “Attribute and Deter Unacceptable Behavior in Cyberspace.”

The paper accuses Russia, Iran and North Korea of conducting “reckless cyber attacks that harmed American and international businesses and our allies and partners without paying costs likely to deter future cyber aggression.”

Adding China to the list, it said the nations all use cyberspace to “challenge the United States, its allies and partners, often with recklessness they would never consider in other domains.”

Among other topics, it specifically discussed the “flood of malign influence and information campaigns and non-state propaganda and disinformation” and said the U.S. would use “all appropriate tools of national power” to expose and counter them.

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“The strategy takes effect today,” White House National Security Advisor John Bolton told reporters.

The strategic paper published today said the U.S. intends to start an international Cyber Deterrence Initiative to build a coalition and “develop tailored strategies to ensure adversaries understand the consequences of their malicious cyber behavior.”

“America created the Internet and shared it with the world,” Trump says in a letter appended to the strategic document. “Now, we must make sure to secure and preserve cyberspace for future generations.”

Bolton underscored that the administration is taking a more offensive stance in the cyber realm. He confirmed that Trump repealed Obama-era restraints weeks ago, as first reported by The Wall Street Journal last month, and said “work has begun” in that area since then.

“We have determined, the president has determined, that it’s in the national interest” to make better use of offensive cyber weapons as a tool of deterrence, he said.

Bolton said “there’s a lot going on in the classified world” that he couldn’t speak to. “Our hands are not tied as they were in the Obama administration.”

Top U.S. officials and national security experts have repeatedly warned that malicious activity online, like the hacking and influence campaign Russia allegedly conducted ahead of the 2016 election, would continue until the U.S. establishes a working, public deterrent policy.

“I believe that [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin has clearly come to the conclusion that there’s little price to pay and that therefore ‘I can continue this activity,’” Adm. Michael Rogers (ret.), then head of the National Security Agency, told lawmakers in February. “Clearly what we done hasn’t been enough.”

In addition to offensive measures, the strategic document also describes broad strategies for promoting American interests online and protecting American federal networks and infrastructure – including election infrastructure – in part by working with private and local stakeholders.

Space, the paper says, is also a concern.

“The United States considers unfettered access to and freedom to operate in space vital to advancing the security, economic prosperity, and scientific knowledge of the Nation,” it says. The Trump administration says it will “enhance efforts” to protect assets in space from cyber attack.

In his comments with reporters Bolton also defended his decision to dismiss the position of cybersecurity coordinator in the White House National Security Council, saying that culling the role was part of his effort to eliminate duplication and overlap within the policy coordination process.

The White House’s strategic outline was met with praise from Michael Daniel, who held the cybersecurity position in the Obama White House that Bolton eliminated.

The strategy “charts a solid path forward to strengthen and protect users who rely on the Internet and the digital ecosystem,” said Daniel, now president of the Cyber Threat Alliance. He said it built on previous efforts in cyberspace and was “an example of what a national strategy should look like on an issue that truly is bipartisan.”

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