As cyberwarfare increasingly becomes a go-to use of aggression, the idea that “what happens in cyber stays in cyber” has no credence. In a 2015 report on cyber deterrence, the Department of Defense made it clear that the United States could retaliate against a cyber-attack with a kinetic response.
For example, if a state actor launched a cyber-attack against the U.S. power grid, the United States might consider an air strike as a possible retaliation.
The Department of Defense has used a kinetic attack at least once before in response to cyber-attacks by a non-state actor when it launched a drone strike in Ar Raqqah, Syria, on Aug. 26, 2015, which killed Junaid Hussain, the leader of ISIS’ hacking group.
The DoD policy seeks to deter the use of cyberwarfare by state actors against the U.S. and its allies by keeping a myriad of possible responses available and ensuring that those state actors are well aware of those capabilities across all domains and our ability and will to employ them.