I was able to read about cyber-warfare and how the United States regularly uses the term. However, the term is said to still be ambiguous with the former Cyber Security Coordinator for the Obama Administration saying that

"there is no cyberwar... I think that is a terrible metaphor and I think that is a terrible concept. There are no winners in that environment."

What I want to know is, does any department of the United States government have a definition for cyber-warfare that members of that department consider to be 'official'?

  • For what purpose? Official definitions are usually necessary for specific statutory or regulatory purposes, or perhaps for administrative purposes. Otherwise, there's no need for the definition to be official.
    – phoog
    Jan 29, 2020 at 21:47
  • 1
    Not sure which is why I asked the question, but I assumed that if the administrator of a certain governmental department needed subordinates to classify a specific attack or action from a foreign power as a cyber attack or act of cyberwarfare for documentation purposes or something, they might require an official definition.
    – Tyler Mc
    Jan 29, 2020 at 22:36
  • That's probably true. On the other hand, if a government official uses the term to describe some activity when talking to the press, it could well be a looser definition than is used officially, or there might be no official definition at all. So one shouldn't infer too much from a discussion of the term in a media interview.
    – phoog
    Feb 2, 2020 at 21:34

3 Answers 3


United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) handles cyberspace concerns for the Department of Defense, and seem the best source of any sort of definition for 'cyberwarfare' or 'cyberwar'. Overall, they don't appear to reference 'cyberwarfare' as it's own domain, rather they refer to cyber operations as another integral part of both domestic defense and conflict abroad.

According to USCYBERCOM's Mission and Vision page:

The Command has three main focus areas: Defending the DoDIN, providing support to combatant commanders for execution of their missions around the world, and strengthening our nation's ability to withstand and respond to cyber attack.

The Command unifies the direction of cyberspace operations, strengthens DoD cyberspace capabilities, and integrates and bolsters DoD's cyber expertise. USCYBERCOM improves DoD's capabilities to operate resilient, reliable information and communication networks, counter cyberspace threats, and assure access to cyberspace. USCYBERCOM is designing the cyber force structure, training requirements and certification standards that will enable the Services to build the cyber force required to execute our assigned missions. The command also works closely with interagency and international partners in executing these critical missions.


There seems to be no formal definition (as of 2015):

Although there is no clear doctrinal definition of “cyberwarfare,” it is typically conceptualized as state-on-state action equivalent to an armed attack or use of force in cyberspace that may trigger a military response with a proportional kinetic use of force.

US Legal gives this definition:

Cyber warfare refers to a massively coordinated digital assault on a government by another, or by large groups of citizens. It is the action by a nation-state to penetrate another nation's computers or networks for the purposes of causing damage or disruption. The term cyber warfare may also be used to describe attacks between corporations, from terrorist organizations, or simply attacks by individuals called hackers, who are perceived as being warlike in their intent.

However, it is unclear whether this is an official definition used by the US government or is something they defined themselves, as it doesn't cite any US codes.


While not an official definition of cyberwar, the Congressional Research Service has published studies including this term. That research breaks it down to more precise terminology used by the U.S. military. For example, see Information Operations, Electronic Warfare, and Cyberwar: Capabilities and Related Policy Issues.

The broadest preferred term, close to cyberwar, would be Information Operations, which can be broken down into:

  • Psychological Operations,
  • Military Deception,
  • Operational Security,
  • Computer Network Operations, and
  • Electronic Warfare

Using a term including "war" seems an attempt to put in place some artificial threshold of how much is too much. It seems unlikely there will ever be a declared cyber-war because the effects of all of these operations would be diminished by openly stating they are underway.

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