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Author's profile photo Derek Klobucher

President Obama’s New Preemptive Strike Powers Target Cyber-Attackers

Any hype over the latest mobile app for your smartphone, tablet computer or phablet just seems pedestrian when compared to President Barack Obama’s new power to cyber-trounce anyone he thinks is about to launch a digital attack on the United States.

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Cyber-attack is an increasingly popular form of asymmetric warfare.

“The attacks on Iran illustrated that a nation’s infrastructure can be destroyed without bombing it or sending in saboteurs,” The New York Times said Sunday of U.S. cyber-strikes executed years ago via the Stuxnet virus. “While many potential targets are military, a country’s power grids, financial systems and communications networks can also be crippled.”

Yep, that means airfields, electrical grids, mobile phone networks and more all rendered useless without a shot fired, a missile launched or a warning given. U.S. officials have decided that cyber-weapons are akin to nuclear bombs, so destructive that only the American president can let them loose.

The President of the United States even has the authority to green-light preemptive strikes against a credible, impending cyber-attack, according to the NYT article. This is so serious that either the Pentagon or Homeland Security Department would respond, depending on the type of attack.

Widening Gulf

NYT cited a “secret legal review” that follows months of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on Western financial institutions, which many experts think Iran is sponsoring. But China is the prime suspect in a spate of attacks on U.S. media, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and Bloomberg News.

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“The United States will not take the same path of digital corporate espionage,” according to Schmidt and Cohen.

“The disparity between American and Chinese firms and their tactics will put both the government and the companies of the United States at a distinct disadvantage,” wrote Google’s Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen in their soon-to-be-released book The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business. “The United States will not take the same path of digital corporate espionage, as its laws are much stricter (and better enforced) and because illicit competition violates the American sense of fair play.”

Schmidt and Cohen also coauthored the November 2010 essay “The Digital Disruption,” which foreshadowed the Arab Spring months later. Now they see the differences in values and laws tearing a gulf between the nations that espouse online freedom and those that oppose it.

Not-So-Worldwide Webs

“The pair even speculate that the Internet could eventually fracture into pieces, some controlled by an alliance of states that are relatively tolerant and free, and others by groupings that want their citizens to take part in a less rowdy and open online life,” according to the book’s preview in The Wall Street Journal. “Companies doing business with the latter could find themselves shunned from the former.”

Like the media mentioned above, WSJ has admitted to being victimized by Chinese digital attack. All that China gains from its cyber-snooping pales in comparison to what it loses in global esteem, a recent WSJ op-ed stated.

“As companies from Google to Nortel to BAE Systems have discovered, hacking — both for purposes of monitoring and to steal commercial intellectual property or government secrets — has become the Chinese way,” the WSJ op-ed said Sunday. “When Chinese officials wonder why companies such as Huawei face an increasingly tough time making inroads and winning regulatory approval abroad, they might consider what their own Soviet-style snooping and stealing have done to China’s international reputation.”

A Bridge Not Too Far?

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The Communist Party of China’s new Politburo Standing Committee, the nation’s top decision-making body, meet the press on Nov. 15, 2012. (Photo from AFP/Getty Images via @daylife)

But there is still hope, despite the fact that China’s new politburo is not likely to change course. The country’s oppressive political regime cannot survive indefinitely amidst its tech- and mobile-savvy population, according to Schmidt and Cohen, who foresee “some kind of revolution in the coming decades.”

That may already be starting. Apple’s notorious contract manufacturer Foxconn Technology Group is trying to increase membership in its labor union — even in its infamous Chinese factories, according to Reuters.

And the U.S. President’s cool new power is only useful when there is a clear and present cyber-danger. So let’s hope that freedom rings all around the Pacific before our different principles make that ocean too big for any diplomat or peacemaker to cross.

Related Media:

Broad Powers Seen for Obama in Cyberstrikes” in The New York Times

Cyber-Attacks Against Banks Continue: Wall Street, We Have A Problemo, Bro” on SAP Business Trends

Exclusive: Eric Schmidt Unloads on China in New Book” in The Wall Street Journal

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