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How tensions with Iran could test a new cyber strategy

In 2018, the Department of Defense began following a new philosophy for cyber operations to better protect U.S. networks and infrastructure.

Known as “defend forward,” the approach allows U.S. cyber forces to be active in foreign network outside the United States to either act against adversaries or warn allies of impending cyber activity that they’ve observed on foreign networks.

After the U.S. military killed an Iranian general in a Jan. 2 drone strike and after national security experts said they expect Iran might take some retaliatory action through cyber operations, the specter of increased cyber attacks against U.S. networks puts Cyber Command and its new approach front and center.

“This Iran situation today is a big test of the ‘defend forward’ approach of this administration,” James Miller, senior fellow at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and former undersecretary of defense for policy, said at a Jan. 7 event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. “Will [Cyber Command] take preventative action? Will they do it in a way that our allies and partners support and that can be explained to the public?”

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