Secrecy News

Superiority in Cyberspace Will Remain Elusive

Military planners should not anticipate that the United States will ever dominate cyberspace, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a new doctrinal publication. The kind of supremacy that might be achievable in other domains is not a realistic option in cyber operations.

“Permanent global cyberspace superiority is not possible due to the complexity of cyberspace,” the DoD publication said.

In fact, “Even local superiority may be impractical due to the way IT [information technology] is implemented; the fact US and other national governments do not directly control large, privately owned portions of cyberspace; the broad array of state and non-state actors; the low cost of entry; and the rapid and unpredictable proliferation of technology.”

Nevertheless, the military has to make do under all circumstances. “Commanders should be prepared to conduct operations under degraded conditions in cyberspace.”

This sober assessment appeared in a new edition of Joint Publication 3-12, Cyberspace Operations, dated June 8, 2018. (The 100-page document updates and replaces a 70-page version from 2013.)

The updated DoD doctrine presents a cyber concept of operations, describes the organization of cyber forces, outlines areas of responsibility, and defines limits on military action in cyberspace, including legal limits.

“DOD conducts CO [cyberspace operations] consistent with US domestic law, applicable international law, and relevant USG and DOD policies.” So though it may be cumbersome, “It is essential commanders, planners, and operators consult with legal counsel during planning and execution of CO.”

The new cyber doctrine reiterates the importance and the difficulty of properly attributing cyber attacks against the US to their source.

“The ability to hide the sponsor and/or the threat behind a particular malicious effect in cyberspace makes it difficult to determine how, when, and where to respond,” the document said. “The design of the Internet lends itself to anonymity and, combined with applications intended to hide the identity of users, attribution will continue to be a challenge for the foreseeable future.”

The changing role of “information” in warfare was addressed in a predecisional draft Joint Concept for Operating in the Information Environment (Joint Chiefs of Staff, December 2017).

“Integrating physical and informational power across geographic boundaries and in multiple domains could lead to campaigns and operations with enormous complexity,” the document warns. “The fog and friction of war punishes unnecessary complexity.”

Another concern is that a “focus on informational power could be misread by Congress and other resource allocators to suggest there is little need for a well-equipped and technologically-advanced Joint Force capable of traditional power projection and decisive action.”