Security and Defence

Policy briefs

The Danger of Proliferating Covert Cyber Operations

15 Sep 2015 - 11:40
Source: Wikimedia Commons/US air force/Carrie Kessler

Only a few months before two recent cyber attacks against the United States Office of Personnel Management were discovered, the US government had announced that it would retaliate against major cyber attacks. How will the US respond to the OPM attacks, for which it seems to hold China responsible?

This Policy Brief discusses various options for deterring similar cyber attacks in the future. It concludes that covert cyber attacks against China appear to be the most likely US response. However, this Policy Brief also notes that such a course of action would be detrimental to international stability.

Countries such as the Netherlands, which to an important degree depend on the United States for security, should urge Washington to refrain from seeking cyber deterrence through retaliation as long as the United States itself conducts similar cyber-espionage operations against China and other nations. Instead, those countries should work with the United States towards establishing norms that halt the proliferation of state-sponsored espionage and covert cyber operations across borders. Only with such norms in place can a strategy of deterrence against state-sponsored cyber attacks be effective.