In cyberspace there is no sanctuary. This means network defenders must maintain a mentality of constant conflict, according to the military’s top cyber official.

“Our Army must continue this idea of operating a wartime mindset while being able to fight the network fight,” Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, said during a panel discussion at the Association of the United States Army annual meeting in Washington, D.C., Oct. 8.

“Our DoD Information Network facilitates everything that we do in terms of our military capabilities. This ability to continue to operate, to continue to maintain, to have a measure of resiliency is critically important to us.”

Army leaders have pointed out how the United States and the military could once take solace in being physically separated from substantial threats, but this is no longer the case in the network battle, which has a global reach.

“Cyberspace has changed the game,” Col. Steve Rehn, the Army’s cyber capabilities manager, said in August, noting that the United States has long benefited from the tyranny of distance, separated by large oceans on either side and friendly nations to the north and south. With the low barrier of entry cyberspace affords, however, groups or individuals could have massive effects against the United States regardless of proximity, the kind of impact historically reserved for nation-states.

Nakasone said that adversaries will focus on any networks or systems — from the strategic to the tactical level — they think will contribute to a significant disruption.

In addition, adversaries are looking to engage the United States below the level of armed conflict “to be able to steal our intellectual property, to be able to leverage our personally identifiable information, to be able to sow distrust within society, to be able to attempt to disrupt our elections,” Nakasone said.

“This is what great power competition looks like today.”

The national defense strategy, released last year, as well as the recently released Department of Defense cyber strategy, seeks to take on adversaries below the threshold of conflict to defend these persistent hacking threats.