Prepare for Cyberwar

Today’s are Small Compared to What’s Coming

Fabius Maximus (June 09 2015)

Summary: Here’s a brief look at the state of cyber-conflicts. The first ones have run their course; from them we can guess at the outlines of the larger ones to come. As with nukes and drones, America has laid a path for others to follow. We’ve been bold and innovative, but lawless. We might regret this when others imitate us.

Cyberspace: A global dynamic environment created by interlocking networks linking people and computers for communication, control, and trade. Like other human domains, it consists of multiple levels –  from purely conceptual (for example, laws, designs) down to the hardware and people that are its material substrate. The term coined by William Gibson in his 1982 story “Burning Chrome” {1}.


1. Battlefields of the future
2. The first cyber conflict
3. Playing defense
4. Are we beleaguered in cyberspace?
5. For more Information

1.  Battlefields of the Future

We have entered a transitional period in the art of war much like that between World War One and World War Two, when a new form of war (the third generation) slowly emerged, but military institutions kept their eyes turned to the past. Many armies were slow to develop innovative tactics for their new internal combustion driven engines. Their cavalry units were symbols of this retrovision. Navies lavished their greatest attention on battleships, not the submarines, escorts, and carrier-borne aircraft that would dominate World War Two (for example, aircraft were the “eyes of the fleet”, not its teeth). Communications technology rapidly improved, but the senior officers paid relatively little attention to cryptography and signals intelligence.

Today war-as-usual continues in the emerging nations, but in the developed world it has moved into new realms –  with the cutting edge in cyberspace. It’s the age of fourth generation war, waged among state and non-state actors in shifting coalitions, taking many forms …

* Hacking: probes and parries by people exploring the nature and uses of cyberspace, rapidly expanding in scale, sophistication, and consequences.

* Raids: the Sony hack {2} and Stuxnet {3}.

* Conflicts for control: Pirate Bay and the Silk Road.

2.  The First Cyber Conflict

“Crossing the Rubicon” –  aka uncorking the genie –  is a core behavior of our military, and so America has taken the lead in both building and using cybertech, as we did with nukes and drones. The best way to learn about new tools is use them against weak opponents, as the NAZIs did by helping the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War {4}. So the US staged the first “electronic Pearl Harbor” by unleashing Stuxnet on Iran’s nuclear installations. It’s behavior that in an earlier time we called that of “a day which will live in infamy”, as we neither gave a declaration of war nor obtained a ruling on Iran’s guilt by the UN.

We are like Germany and Japan in the interwar years, as America’s military appears to seek dominance in cyberspace as great as (or more so) than we have in the air and the blue water seas {5}. Combining America’s powerful technology industry with the almost unimaginable stream of defense spending –  who can say what might be accomplished? So far we’ve been the attacker in cyberspace, and have enjoyed the experience.

We blaze a path without restraint or forethought about rules. Others will follow, doing things we’ve made respectable. That boldness almost destroyed the world in the nuclear arms race. We have yet to see the consequences with cyberweapons (and drone assassins). But it seems likely scale of these conflicts will grow. Following our lead, they’ll grow without restraint.

3.  Playing Defense

Although the military sets American’s pulses racing, as with the destruction of al Qaeda, it’s the law enforcement and intelligence agencies that often get the job done. When defending in cyberspace the US has followed a traditional path, relying on internationally coordinated law enforcement mechanisms to destroy the Pirate Bay website {6} (free distribution of entertainment products, whether copyrighted or illegal) and the Silk Road {7} (an online network for trading goods and services, legal and illegal). This provides decisive rebuttals to those who believed that the e-world offers escape from government power.

An organization can take its operations into cyberspace, but its weak links remain its Earth-bound hardware and people, as seen in the operations against the Silk Road {8, 9, 10, 11}.

4. Are We Beleaguered in Cyberspace?

As it did so successfully during the Cold War’s bomber gap {12} and missile gap {13}, US Department of Defence trumpets America’s inferior and vulnerable position in this new form of war –  hence the need to give it even more funds. Now as then these stories are ludicrously implausible (we’re outmatched by North Korea and Iran?), but Americans respond as reliably as Pavlov’s dogs {14, 15}.

While Cyber Command leaders’ speak about the importance of defense as in {16} and the vulnerability of our systems (accurately), their actions on the world stage suggest that much of their effort goes to attacking. That’s natural for the military, but suggests an absence of civilian leadership. Such neglect of their responsibility during the early years of the Cold War allowed the arms race to run wild, with brinksmanship several times bringing the world close to Armageddon. Let’s learn from that experience –  not repeat it.

5. For More Information

Some good books about these cutting edge phenomena …

See all posts about cyberconflict and cybercrime {17}, and especially these …



















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