Pentagon Finalizing Rules of Engagement Against Cyber Attacks

Gen. Keith Alexander, head of Cyber Command / AP

The Pentagon is finalizing the rules of engagement granting military commanders clearer authority if they have to respond to an enemy cyber attack, USA Today reports.

While the military has existing rules that allow it to defend the nation, the Pentagon said, analysts say these new rules make it easier for commanders to take action against cyber threats without clearing it at the presidential level:

"This is all putting the world on notice, particularly the Chinese, that we're tired of them breaking into private companies," said Richard Bejtlich, chief security officer at Mandiant, a computer security company.

The so-called rules of engagement will "provide a defined framework for how best to respond to the plethora of cyber-threats we face," said Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, a Pentagon spokesman.

The rules will be kept secret and cover more conventional combat as well. The difficulty to determine the source of cyber attacks and the need to create a new set of rules signifies how opaque the cyber world is:

Even what constitutes an act of war is difficult to determine.

Gen. Keith Alexander, head of Cyber-Command, said recently the bulk of cyber-attacks are espionage and commercial theft, not an act of war. "If the intent is to disrupt or destroy our infrastructure, I think you've crossed a line," he said.