Wintermute calling.

by Justin

Things just got that much cooler in the US Military, and that much closer to science fiction.

The New York Times today ran a story about the pending confirmation of the leader of the all new Cyber Command division of the military. Granted, this is likely an overdue initiative given how digital the entire planet has become – but in the past year, perhaps owing to China’s sudden prowess and recent accusations of its cyber misbehavior, everything escalated.

Couple things. As you’d expect, this will formalize a lot of traditional attacks – those on every kind of military network, launch facility, etc. But it ventures into the tricky arena of civilian targets “including power grids, banks and financial networks, transportation and telecommunications.” This potential for a non-military sort of warfare is relatively new. And the technology evolves much faster than any law possibly could, so massive gray areas develop constantly.

General Keith Alexander, the man of the hour, noted that Cyber Command “would be sensitive to the ripple effects from this kind of warfare, and would honor the laws of war that govern traditional combat in seeking to limit the impact on civilians.” But how is that possible? How can traditional law about civilian casualties, about rules of engagement possibly apply directly to this arena? The article also led me to believe that the CC will be recommending the legislation to cover its own activities, providing the sort of free-for-all that earned the NSA so much flack for tapping phones and reading emails.

I wonder what conventions exist presently regarding cyberattacks and such, the safeguards against or consequences of collateral damage in waging war across computers. And I also wonder if a hilarious new ranking system will develop for cyber warriors, elevating the nerdiest of nerds to four-star generals.

Remember the giant viral program that Case unleashed at the end of Neuromancer? That wove itself elegantly and subtly into the existing program? All black and sleek and beautiful, probably Chinese military-grade? Let’s hope we’re getting there. And that it’s even half as awesome as anything William Gibson writes.