"Despite probing and trolling, a Russian cyberattack is the dog that did not bark in Tuesday's midterm elections," writes national security columnist Eli Lake. This is the assessment of the Department of Homeland Security, which says there were no signs of a coordinated campaign to disrupt U.S. voting. This welcome news raises a relevant and important question: Were Cyber adversaries actually deterred from infiltrating voter databases and changing election results...? In September the White House unveiled a new policy aimed at deterring Russia, China, Iran and North Korea from hacking U.S. computer networks in general and the midterms in particular. National security adviser John Bolton acknowledged as much last week when he said the U.S. government was undertaking "offensive cyber operations" aimed at "defending the integrity of our electoral process." There aren't many details. Reportedly this entailed sending texts, pop-ups, emails and direct messages warning Russian trolls and military hackers not to disrupt the midterms. U.S. officials tell me much more is going on that remains classified. It is part of a new approach from the Trump administration that purports to unleash U.S. Cyber Command to hack the hackers back, to fight them in their networks as opposed to America's. Bolton has said the policy reverses previous restrictions on military hackers to disrupt the networks from which rival powers attack the U.S. Sometimes this is called "persistent engagement" or "defend forward." And it represents a shift in the broader U.S. approach to engaging adversaries in cyberspace.... The difference now is that America's cyber warriors will routinely try to disrupt cyberattacks before they begin... The object of cyberdeterrence is not to get an adversary to never use cyberweapons. It's to prevent attacks of certain critical systems such as voter registration databases, electrical grids and missile command-and-control systems. The theory, at least, is to force adversaries to devote resources they would otherwise use to attack the U.S. to better secure their own networks. Jason Healey, a historian of cyber conflicts at Columbia University's School for International and Public Affairs, asks "How much of cyberspace will survive the war?" warning that "persistent engagement" could lead to a dangerous miscalculation by an adversarial nation-state -- or even worse, a spiral of escalation, with other state's following America's lead, changing the open Internet into more of a battleground.
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