The United States has habitually tolerated cyber attacks from several great and regional powers that, perhaps a decade ago, Washington would have considered an act of war, according to the ranking U.S. Navy admiral in charge of information warfare.

“We’ve had an awful lot of examples of what, 10 years ago, we assumed would be construed as an act of war,” Vice Adm. Jan Tighe said Thursday. “And, in a lot of cases, there has not been a response, either a military response or a diplomatic response.”

Tighe, the deputy chief of naval operations for information warfare, suggested that policy makers in recent years failed to develop international standards due to a belief that cyber technology was too nascent. But the danger of hacking threats grew quickly, leaving U.S. officials uncertain of how to respond.

For example, Russian-linked hackers shut down an electrical grid in Ukraine, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power for several hours.

“The international community did not even really come out strongly and say, ‘this is unacceptable, you cannot go after critical infrastructure,'” she said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Where is the hue and cry in that? And so, what that says is, that must be okay. That must be perfectly acceptable. When you’re not at war, you can attack someone’s critical infrastructure.”

A number of experts believe the U.S. may be ill-prepared to defend its critical civilian infrastructure from cyber attacks. And while the U.S. government can no doubt respond in kind, that doesn’t make our experts sleep any better at night. [source]

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