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Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management

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US Policy on Active Cyber Defense

Angelyn Flowers
  • Department of Criminal Justice, University of the District of Columbia, Washington DC, USA
/ Sherali Zeadally
  • Corresponding author
  • College of Communication and Information, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, 40506, USA
  • Email:
Published Online: 2014-06-19 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jhsem-2014-0021


Today cyberspace is playing a pivotal role in many sectors of society and has become an integral part in the lives of individuals. Much of the critical infrastructure responsible for basic facilities such as water, energy, food, gas and electricity has become heavily integrated with cyberspace. As a result, securing cyberspace has become an issue of high national priority for many governments around the world and the US is no exception. For quite some time, this has been achieved through passive cyber defense strategies. Unfortunately, in recent years, these strategies have proved ineffective in accomplishing this goal, requiring a shift in strategy from passive to active cyber defense strategies. We examine the US policy on active cyber defense and the circumstances under which active cyber defense may be utilized by the US Government or those acting on its behalf. It can be difficult in some circumstances to distinguish active cyber defense from cyber offense. As may therefore be expected, the utilization of active cyber defense has the potential for creation of political, ethical as well as legal, and operational risks. In a brief comparison of US policy on active cyber defense with a few selected cybersecurity policies of other states the US policy is on the aggressive end of the spectrum, at least among the democratic states.

Keywords: cyber attacks; cyber defense; law; policy; risk


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About the article

Corresponding author: Sherali Zeadally, College of Communication and Information, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, 40506, USA, email:

Published Online: 2014-06-19

Citation Information: Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, ISSN (Online) 1547-7355, ISSN (Print) 2194-6361, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jhsem-2014-0021. Export Citation

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