The U.S. is monitoring the cyber landscape for potential threats that could emerge due to the conflict in Syria, Air Force Lt. Gen. James McLaughlin said Friday Oct. 9, but he declined to comment on what sorts of cyber threats Russian involvement in the war could create.
"If there are any players that are potential threats, or are bringing capability that would cause us concern there, we will track them to a high level of detail to make sure that we understand what threat they might pose to our networks or our forces and that we're ready to defend against it," said McLaughlin, the U.S. Cyber Command deputy director.
Speaking at a forum held by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, McLaughlin added that "anyplace the U.S. military is operating, our [concerns include] our own cyber terrain and how we're operating and defending it in any theater, which includes operations in Iraq and Syria."
The general declined to comment on whether the U.S. has seen an increase or decrease in cyber attacks originating in Russia since that nation became involved in the four-year-old war in Syria.
McLaughlin said it is also too soon to tell whether a new cyber agreement between the U.S. and China will cut down on digital attacks.
In September, President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping reached an agreement "that neither country's government will conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, including trade secrets or other confidential business information, with the intent of providing competitive advantages to companies or commercial sectors," the White House said in a press release.
It was a move hoped to cut down on Chinese hacks of U.S. industries designed to give their companies a boost on the international market. Some U.S. defense contractors have also been targeted, and the Pentagon is concerned about theft of military secrets.
But McLaughlin said it was "too early to tell" whether the agreement would actually cut down on the number of cyber attacks.
"You'll see any change pay out over a longer period of time than just the past couple of weeks," he said.
The U.S. is looking at policies on what level of response is appropriate for a cyber attack, McLaughlin said, and considering what the threshold is for potentially answering a cyber action with a kinetic response.
"I do think we have a broad framework for what the threshold looks like," he said. "If you see attacks of significant consequence, so attacks that might involve loss of life [or attacks] causing serious damage to the United States either economically or in some other area."