recommended reading

Defense lacks doctrine to guide it through cyberwarfare

The Defense Department lacks the doctrine needed to effectively guide cyberwarfare strategies, according to officials with the Government Accountability Office, who expect to release in October an unclassified version of a report detailing the challenges.

More than once, senior military officials claimed in testimony before Congress that current and future adversaries are likely to rely more on a blending of conventional and irregular approaches to conflicts, which they referred to as hybrid warfare. GAO submitted a report to the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities on Sept. 10 about how the Defense Department defined the concept and used it in strategic planning documents.

According to the report, hybrid warfare might be used informally to describe the ever-changing complexity and dynamics of the battlefield, but the department has not officially defined the term and has no plans to do so, claiming existing doctrine on traditional and irregular warfare is sufficient to describe the current and future operational environment.

"But if you look at the Defense Department's definition for irregular warfare, it does not include cyber; in fact, cyber is notoriously missing from all doctrine," said Davi D'Agostino, director of defense capabilities and management at GAO.

The Defense Department defines irregular warfare as "favor[ing] indirect and asymmetric approaches, though it may employ the full range of military and other capacities, in order to erode an adversary's power, influence and will."

D'Agostino added, "To the extent that our operational plans actually incorporate a cyber [takeover] for example -- that's all yet to be seen. There needs to be greater acknowledgement of cyber as a tactical component of warfare operations."

Official doctrine would detail how Defense might incorporate military approaches to warfare, including cyber, and provide the handbook, so to speak, for how to "counter the countermeasures, and be more adaptive," said Marc Schwartz, assistant director of defense capabilities and management at GAO.

D'Agostino and Schwartz said they are hopeful the U.S. Cyber Command will establish the doctrine on cyberwarfare.

"One concern that has existed on the Hill for a considerable amount of time, but heightened since the formation of the Cyber Command, has to do with absence of a clear strategy in terms of rules of engagement for cyberspace," said one former intelligence official who asked to not be named. "It's just not there."

Defense , however, is very well-equipped to utilize cyberspace during conflict, said James Lewis, director of the technology and public policy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"In the cyber realm, they haven't worked out doctrine, rules, authority; and there are questions about how cyber operations can be used during peacetime," he said. "But they've gone far to incorporate cyber into military planning. Can it be refined and improved? Sure. But during war, they know what to do."

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.