WASHINGTON — For years, even as the United States carried out sophisticated cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear program and the Pentagon created a Cyber Command, officials have been hesitant to discuss American offensive cyberwarfare programs openly. Since June, in fact, F.B.I. agents have been investigating leaks to The New York Times about the computer attacks on Tehran.
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But the reticence is giving way. The chorus of official voices speaking publicly about American cyberattack strategy and capabilities is steadily growing, and some experts say greater openness will allow the United States to stake out legal and ethical rules in the uncharted territory of computer combat. Others fear that talking too boldly about American plans could fuel a global computer arms race.
Next month the Pentagon’s research arm will host contractors who want to propose “revolutionary technologies for understanding, planning and managing cyberwarfare.” It is an ambitious program that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, calls Plan X, and the public description talks about “understanding the cyber battlespace,” quantifying “battle damage” and working in Darpa’s “cyberwar laboratory.”