Hacking Back at Russia is a Terrible Idea. Here are Ten Reasons Why.

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President Biden continues to hint that our nation will embark shortly on a retaliatory effort involving a major cyber offensive action, presumably taken by US Cyber Command, against Russian targets. This is a terrible idea – and here are ten reasons why.  

1 Response – If our military hacks Russian targets, then all sorts of random actors will respond with more attacks against our citizens, businesses, and other unprepared targets.

2 Chaos – Everyone knows that Russia seeks to sow chaos. Offensive cyber retaliation will just escalate this process.

3 Defense – Using our offense as a defense misses the point. Improving our defense is the best defense. We need to focus on fixing our vulnerabilities.

4 Servers – Observers think (immaturely) that retaliation involves hitting “Russian servers” that are attacking us. The targets of US retaliation would have nothing to do with servers.

5 Morality – We’ve pointed to 16 sectors as off-limits on economic and moral grounds. If we hack back, do we target these sectors in Russia? Would it include children’s hospitals?

6 Threat – Russia already knows we have a world-class cyber military. Telling them we will hack back plays into a hand they’ve already considered carefully. This is not news to them.

7 Frustration – We are all frustrated. I am frustrated. But this is a terrible motivation for taking highly consequential action. Everyone knows that.

8 Politics – Yes, it is obvious that President Biden feels political pressure to do something. But we elected him to be a leader, not a follower.

9 Message – By implying that hacking back at Russia will solve our cybersecurity problem, we are seriously misleading the American people. The problem will remain.

10 Blame – We criticized President Trump for diverting COVID blame to China. Is President Biden similarly diverting blame for our cyber weakness to Russia?

Look – the solution to our cybersecurity problem lies at home. We need to simplify our computer systems. Better fund our IT security departments. Streamline complex business processes. Write more elegant code. And massively increase the number of college grads emerging with CS degrees.

It should not be so easy to hack US systems. Period. This is our problem. We need to solve this at home.

Do you want to make a difference right now for the future cyber security posture of our nation? Then go help your sixth grader with her math homework.

By the way, if your response to my list is that we need to do something or that we can’t just sit back and let the Russians hack us – then you just make my case.

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