WASHINGTON — A question from a member of the Pentagon’s newcyberwarfare unit the other day prompted President Obama to voice his frustration about America’s seeming inability to deter a growing wave of computer attacks, and to vow to confront the increasingly aggressive adversaries who are perpetrating them.
“Offense is moving a lot faster than defense,” Mr. Obama told troops on Friday at Fort Meade, Md., home of the National Security Agency and the United States Cyber Command. “The Russians are good. The Chinese are good. The Iranians are good.” The problem, he said, was that despite improvements in tracking down the sources of attacks, “we can’t necessarily trace it directly to that state,” making it hard to strike back.
Then he issued a warning: “There comes a point at which we consider this a core national security threat.” If China and other nations cannot figure out the boundaries of what is acceptable, “we can choose to make this an area of competition, which I guarantee you we’ll win if we have to.”
If Mr. Obama sounded uncharacteristically combative on the topic, it is because finding a way to deter computer attacks is one of the most urgent and confounding problems he faces in his last 16 months in office. The problem is all the more pressing because it is where the high-tension diplomacy surrounding the state visit of President Xi Jinping of China next week merges with the challenge of containing Iran in the aftermath of the recently completed nuclear agreement with Tehran.
Mustering the leverage to deter attacks is exactly what Mr. Obama is struggling to accomplish in the days leading up to Mr. Xi’s visit. For six weeks, American officials have warned that they are preparing sanctions against Chinese hackers, telling Chinese officials in private meetings that the combination of intellectual property theft and espionage on an unprecedented scale — the theft of the 22 million security dossiers from the Office of Personnel Management, for example — cannot go unanswered.
Copyright: The New York Times