Nations including China and Russia that launch cyberattacks against the U.S. don’t fear retribution and see no reason to change their behavior, the Army officer tapped to be the next head of U.S. Cyber Command told a Senate Committee Thursday.
Army Lt. Gen. Paul M. Nakasone said that cyber threats against the country have grown exponentially, and the U.S. must impose costs on those adversaries to make them stop.
Frustrated members of the Senate Armed Services Committee peppered Nakasone with questions about what the U.S. should do to nations that infiltrate government networks, steal data from contractors or try to influence American elections.
“We seem to be the, you know, cyber punching bag of the world,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, adding that officials repeatedly tell lawmakers that the U.S. doesn’t retaliate against attackers such as Russia, China or North Korea. “Should we start cranking up the costs of the cyberattacks on our nation?”
Nakasone agreed that adversaries don’t think much will happen to them if they conduct computer-based attacks.
“They don’t fear us,” he told senators during his confirmation hearing. “It is not good, senator.”
Asked by Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb, if China is worried about a response from the U.S. president, Nakasone responded, “I think that our adversaries have not seen our response in sufficient detail to change the behavior.”
The U.S. response, said Sasse, is not adequate and must be more than simply cyber defense. “Why should the American people have any confidence in their government right now in the area of cyber war?” he said.
Nakasone, who currently leads U.S. Army Cyber Command, was cautious when asked what the U.S. should do. He said he would provide a series of options to civilian leaders and the president, and those could include actions other than cyber retaliation.
U.S. officials have argued that they have a number of ways to deal with nations that conduct cyber espionage or attacks — ranging from government sanctions and regulatory actions to various diplomatic and military responses.
Nakasone also told lawmakers that the U.S. must build its cyber force, and do what is needed to attract and retain the right people. A key strategy, he said, is to offer incentives to get service members and civilians who have critical skills in computer languages, forensics and other program development.