cyber warfare
Senator John McCain says the US is behind its adversaries in cyber warfare

Well-known Republican hawk Senator John McCain claims the US has no strategy to deal with Russian cyber warfare and has no idea what the current president is going to do about it, according to a report in The Guardian

In an audio tape obtained by The Guardian, McCain is heard saying cyber warfare “is the one aspect of our confrontation where adversaries are ahead”.

McCain, a former soldier who fought in the Vietnam War in the 1970s, claims “we don’t have a policy and we don’t have a strategy” for dealing with Russian President and KGB spy Vladimir Putin’s advanced cyber espionage activities.

The Guardian claims McCain is allegedly heard describing Putin as “a KGB criminal”, and repeating the accusation that the leader of the largest country on Earth hacked the US presidential elections.

“We do know the Russians were trying to influence the outcome of our election,” claimed McCain, who had always said: “The facts are there.”

McCain’s view was consistent with US intelligence agencies’ report which claimed that Putin “directly ordered” what they called an “influence campaign” designed to destroy Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign and put Republican Donald Trump in the White House.

Trump initially dismissed the allegations, claiming they were “ridiculous”, but watered down his comments and was ultimately persuaded by US intelligence agents that Russian spies were “consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee”.

Now McCain is increasing the pressure on Trump to keep his campaign pledge to make the US military – in Trump’s words – “the best in the world in both cyber offense and defense”.

Trump had also said: “As a deterrent against attacks on our critical resources, the United States must possess the unquestioned capacity to launch crippling cyber counter-attacks. America’s dominance in this arena must be unquestioned.”

The Diplomat website says that while it’s possible that Trump will adopt a more aggressive cyber position, there is a subsequent risk of an accelerated cyber arms race.

McCain, who was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict, says Trump should honour his pledge to be offensive, claiming “it is a hell of a lot of easier to offense in cyber than defense”.

And while Trump had criticised McCain on the campaign trail, the veteran politician and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, praised the new administration, saying “the national security team that President Trump has assembled is as strong or better than any I’ve ever seen”.

The International Committee of the Red Cross defines cyber warfare as any hostile measures against an enemy designed “to discover, alter, destroy, disrupt, or transfer data stored in a computer, manipulated by a computer, or transmitted through a computer”.

Although no organisation has publicly made a big deal that a global cyber war is going on, that may be because it’s always been going on, even before computers were invented. Only now there’s much more information being stored on computers and a lot more ways to get to it.

However, according to Forbes, the alleged hacking of the US elections – whatever that means and whether it’s true or not – was not an act of cyber war.

“While certainly hostile, and likely a violation of international law, the action falls far short of how warfare is likely to play out in cyberspace,” says Forbes. “And frighteningly, it demonstrates only a fraction of Russia’s capability to harm US interests online.”

Meanwhile, the European Union is reported to be tooling up for cyber war, according to EurActiv.com, which claims to be “an independent pan-European media network specialised in EU policies”.

EurActiv says individual member states of the EU were engaged in their own personal cyber arms race, but the EU as a whole was at risk of being left behind.

EurActiv considers France a leader in the cyber arms race, having launched its first specialised cyber unit in December, employing 2,600 specialists.

EurActive quotes French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian as warning that a “new cyber battlefield” would mean “the whole art of war would have to be rethought”.

Le Drian says he expects France’s new team of hackers to “break through the systems of our enemies” and “neutralise temporarily or permanently” their networks.

Germany and the UK have also made significant new investments in cyber warfare capabilities.

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