Skip to main content

Obama warns: "Hack us, and we'll bomb you"

Barack Obama has revealed his ultimate strategy for dealing with hackers who carry out cyber-attacks against the US government: he'll bomb them.

Writing in a personal foreword to the document International Strategy for Cyberspace (PDF), released by the White House yesterday, the President outlined the measures his country would take to "preserve the character of cyberspace and reduce the threats we face". And the bad news for would-be cyber-terrorists is that hacking into US systems could be enough to trigger a military response.

"States have an inherent right to self-defense that may be triggered by certain aggressive acts in cyberspace," the policy document states.

"Certain hostile acts conducted through cyberspace could compel actions under the commitments we have with our military treaty partners," it goes on. "When warranted, the United States will respond to hostile acts in cyberspace as we would any other threat to our country."

The document continues with a stark warning: "The United States will ensure that the risks associated with attacking or exploiting our networks vastly outweigh the potential benefits."

The policy statement goes on to suggest that the US even reserves the right to exact retribution against threats based in 'friendly' countries, as it did recently in the case of Al-Q'aeda head Osama Bin Laden, shot dead within a few hundred metres of a major military academy in US ally Pakistan.

Military force will only be used as a last resort, the document reassures - but that will, no doubt, provide little comfort to British hacker Gary McKinnon.

McKinnon is currently fighting extradition to the United States on charges - alleged by some to be trumped-up - of hacking into the country's military computer systems. Diagnosed autistic, McKinnon claims to have been looking for evidence of UFOs. Doctors have argued that imprisonment in the US penal system poses a severe threat to McKinnon's wellbeing.

Alongside its less-than-veiled threats, the US government goes on to set out an agenda for protecting free speech on the internet - though we're a little unclear as to how the following high-minded passage might apply to whistle-blowing organisation WikiLeaks:

"Cybersecurity is particularly important for activists, advocates, and journalists on the front lines who may express unpopular ideas and opinions, and who are frequently the victims of disruptions and intrusions into their email accounts, websites, mobile phones, and data systems. The United States supports efforts to empower these users to protect themselves, to help ensure their ability to exercise their free expression and association rights on the new technologies of the 21st century."