The Real Prospect of U.S. Engagement in Cyber Warfare

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Recently United States President Joe Biden held separate virtual summits with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Unfortunately, they were more symbolic than substantive in nature, and the reality is we are edging closer to a full-on, advanced open cyber warfare with these foreign superpowers.


Let’s first talk about China. The state has long been a thorn in America’s side when it comes to nation-state attacks. This is for various reasons. China wants to be in the know about everything America does, as it feels threatened by America’s technological might. Their quest for global domination requires China to learn everything they can about how America’s infrastructure works, which means stealing valuable information at any cost. As they see it, it is in their interest to generate as much chaos and confusion as possible.


As for Russia, while the world is now well aware of their meddling with the 2016 presidential election in the United States, that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the former Soviet Union. Much like China, North Korea, and Iran, Russia is also launching daily cyberattacks against America’s infrastructure.


From shutting down supermarkets in Sweden to disrupting kindergartens in New Zealand, there are plenty of examples of how Vladimir Putin and Russian hacking groups continue to wreak havoc across the work. In early this year, suspected Russian government hackers breached the U.S. government in what is now known as the SolarWinds hack – one of the largest and most brazen hacks in American history. The hack not only breached government agencies like the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, but also Fortune 500 companies like Microsoft.


Many cybersecurity experts are saying that a cyber war with these two global giants is just beginning, and it’s going to be a bumpy ride. “With these kinds of attacks going on, and the amount of vulnerability that we have, things are going in a really, really bad direction,” Jason Healey, a cybersecurity expert, a former Air Force officer and White House official, told Vox.


As the U.S. Justice Department has been busy charging various Russian officials with hacking into computers of Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 presidential run, members of the country’s intelligence infrastructure are busier than ever attacking America’s infrastructure. Russia, just like China, sees cyberattacks as a necessary element of furthering their agenda as a world superpower. They want to be perceived as a dominating world force, a country that can have a meaningful influence on the global stage. They assume that to get there they need to employ cybersecurity offensive measures.


What is becoming all too apparent is that significant attacks on critical national infrastructure are likely to hit the United States, thus leading it to participate in cyber warfare. The root cause is that countries and rogue factions all throughout the world are trying to disrupt America’s very way of life. Some are doing it for animosity towards the United States, others for espionage and financial gain, and others for pure entertainment.


This year we have witnessed enormous damage caused by the attacks on the Colonial Gas pipeline and the beef industry, but looking into the crystal ball of future attacks, we can most certainly anticipate similar cyberattacks on the banking/financial services sector, water systems, and chemical sector. The sky is the limit when it comes to hacking America’s critical infrastructure.


Ultimately, the Biden administration will have to start hacking and attacking back as President Biden has at his fingertips the most powerful and lethal cyber division in the world in U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM).  USCYBERCOM is located in Fort Meade, Maryland, is the nation’s 10th Unified Combatant Command. USCYBERCOM is responsible for directing, synchronizing, and coordinating cyberspace planning and operations in defense of the United States and its interests.  In response to growing threats against America’s military, USCYBERCOM has the ability to “defend forward” anywhere in the world, in effect, responding to cyber threats before they reach America’s digital doorstep.


Within only a matter of minutes, President Biden could launch a first cyber offensive or counterattack through a wide range of resources through the National Security Agency (NSA) and USCYBERCOM. The United States has a lethal laundry list of offensive cyber tools that are literally “on the shelf” and ready to be deployed.  It’s not a matter of if President Biden will use, them, but when.


Biden and the U.S. have played defense so far, but eventually, USCYBERCOM has no choice but to go on offense as growing threats from China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and other nation-states. While the public is well aware of recent high-profile cyberattacks from these countries – such as the Sony Pictures hack in 2014 by North Korea, or the attack on Saudi-Aramco in 2012 by Iran – there’s been a plethora of other nefarious cyberattacks not as well-known.


A response could happen by unleashing our digital weapons of mass destruction that are located at Fort Meade under the direction of USCYBERCOM.  But there are numerous other divisions within the top 17 intelligence agencies of the United States government that have the ability to hit back with high-level, offensive cyber power.


The first country – or rogue faction – that actually brings down and dismantles a vital element of a country’s critical infrastructure would see such a response. It would have to be a significant impact on the very fabric of America’s economy – such as the entire Eastern seaboard electrical grid being shut down, or the federal reserve banking system becoming paralyzed with an attack. That could be anyone: Iran, North Korea, Russia, even China.


Will we eventually see cyber-attacks plateau as the global community reaches some balance with less damage and upheaval? Possibly.


These countries know that the United States has the most sophisticated and lethal cyber army in the world. The United States can hit anyone, anywhere, anytime, and this I personally know from inside experience. If you hit America, and we know who you are and we can verify and validate that you attacked us, then a cyber assault could very well be headed your way.


Charles Denyer

Charles Denyer is an Austin-based cybersecurity and national security expert who has worked with hundreds of US and international organizations. He consults with top political and business leaders throughout the world, including former US vice presidents, White House chiefs of staff, secretaries of state, ambassadors, high-ranking intelligence officials and CEOs. He is also an established author, with forthcoming biographies of three of America’s former vice presidents: Dick Cheney, Al Gore and Dan Quayle.

In early 2022, Charles will publish “Blindsided,” an in-depth examination of today’s growing challenges and cyberattacks, data breaches, terrorism and social violence. In 2022 he will also launch the North American Cybersecurity Council (NACC), an industry-first organization aimed at addressing today’s current and emerging information security, cybersecurity, data privacy and regulatory compliance laws and regulations.


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