Gordon M. Goldstein is a managing director at the global technology investment firm Silver Lake Partners and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
When the widely respected national security mandarin Robert Gates was appointed secretary of defense in late 2006, his daily intelligence reports on the cascade of cyberattacks directed against the United States left him incredulous. As author and Slate columnist Fred Kaplan recounts, Gates was “so stunned by the volume of attempted intrusions into American military networks — his briefings listed dozens, sometimes hundreds every day — that he wrote a memo to the Pentagon’s deputy general counsel. At what point, he asked, did a cyber attack constitute an act of war under international law?” When the defense secretary finally received a response — vague and evasive, in his estimation — almost two full years had passed.
The episode illustrates an enduring