Is It Time for Cyber-Martial Law?

Is It Time for Cyber-Martial Law?

What do you get when you combine increasingly professional Cyberattacks from China with a Congressional budget stalemate threatening a sequester that will drastically slash our Cyberdefense efforts? The answer: a brewing crisis of immense proportions that may lead to the Cyber-9/11 we’re all dreading. But in the absence of a functional Congress, what steps can the President take to defend the United States from the ongoing Cyberwar? His recent Cybersecurity Executive Order isn’t up to the task. Perhaps he should declare Cyber-Martial Law.

Under martial law, a government can suspend parts of its constitution to enable the military to take direct law enforcement actions that would otherwise be the responsibility of civilian law enforcement. Typically, martial law is declared during times of widespread civil unrest as a way of controlling the populace.

In the case of the existing Cyberwar, however, it’s not the American populace that’s causing most of the trouble. It appears to be a localized group of Chinese hackers who may or may not be working for the Chinese government. But what’s really different about Cyberwar and traditional military actions isn’t the enemy, it’s the battlefield: the Internet.

The problem with fighting a Cyberwar on the Internet, of course, is that the Internet is global and hence doesn’t belong to any single country. If the US still owned it, and some foreign fighting force was attacking us on what essentially would be home turf, then suspending civilian laws to leverage military force would at least have some precedent.

But the US hasn’t owned the Internet for decades now. Different carriers around the world own different pieces of the core backbone that supports the global Internet. All is not lost, however. China gets virtually all its Internet connectivity via undersea cables, which simplifies matters. As this map shows, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, The Philippines, and Guam account for the lion’s share of China’s Internet access. And fortunately, these countries are all US allies or in the cases of Guam, even part of the US.

Any sort of Cyber-Martial Law that targeted malefactors in China, therefore, would likely have to be a cooperative effort among these countries. For all we know, they may already be taking action behind the scenes. Even if they are, however, the looming sequester may impact America’s ability to lead our allies’ Cyberdefense efforts, so extraordinary steps, even some kind of Cyber-Martial Law, may need to be on the table.

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