iStock cyber warfare

The Department of Justice announced charges against seven Iranian hackers today for launching cyber attacks against the U.S. financial system and a dam in New York.  There is no question, these events were malicious cyber attacks.  But when is it cyber crime and when is it cyber war?  Apparently, sometimes never.  Loretta Lynch is calling this cyber terrorism, because also this week the Justice Department announced they have changed their approach and now treat nation-state affiliated hacking attacks like terrorism threats.

Lest you think everything is now clear, in the same statement, Loretta said, “In unsealing this indictment, the Department of Justice is sending a powerful message: that we will not allow any individual, group, or nation to sabotage American financial institutions or undermine the integrity of fair competition in the operation of the free market,”  Really?  How powerful!  I imagine then the State Department, in coordination with the Department of Justice, will now approve travel visas for these seven terrorists so that we might possibly arrest them after stepping onto U.S. soil.

Here’s my disconnect.  I understand terrorism to be used to classify harmful acts that are attributed to stateless warriors.  The circumstances around terrorism differ from crime and war such that we have this third category of aggression.  Hence, we have tribunals in Gitmo.  I sort of understand it.  Cyber Security experts have coined unique terms for hacking to categorize attacks as militaristic or criminal.  Fairly intuitive.  War is when we’re attacked by a government-attached army and crime is when we’re attacked by a civilian.  I would then think that cyber terrorism is when we’re attacked by a stateless army, but I’m wrong.  It means when we are attacked by real countries, namely China and Iran, but electronically rather than by arms.  Maybe there is additional criteria, such as the attack is against a corporation or citizen rather than against our military?

So if Iran blows up Wall Street, that’s war.  If Iran only electronically implodes Wall Street, then that is terrorism by the individuals working for the Iranian government.  Not sure how to classify the dam attack.  We need to stop pussy-footing around and call it what it is.  Cyber War!