Has the Cyber-War threat has been Grossly Exaggerated? Thanks to Intelligence Squared (I2) and Neustar for first – bring I2 outside of New York and second for setting up an Oxford-style debate to address the “market saturation” of the cyber-warfare threat. I’ve been a strong critic of the overhype, exaggeration, and fiction expounded by “individuals” who call themselves “experts” stirring up the cold war fear over the threat to the Net & the Global Telecommunication Infrastructure. This issue is not that we are living in scary and precarious times. The threat to the Net exist. The risk is grave. A few people can cause massive disruption which can threat lives. But, that threat is not necessarily related to nation-state “war.” Highlighting and contrasting this fine, but the distinctive difference is hard – especially for policymakers. Action needs to be taken to build security/resiliency into the Net, but that “investment” has to be an investment which makes a difference. Focusing the debate on “cyber warfare” threat encourages the wrong investment – using Cold War & Maginot Line methodologies inappropriately mapped on top of the Net. What do you get when you use the last war strategies to address problems of the future …… ?
The debate will happen at the News Museum, with description (see below) and tickets available on the I2 web site. What is nice is that you can also vote before the debate with this poll (go to I2 to vote) of the vote here: https://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/debates/cyber-war-threat-has-been-grossly-exaggerated
It could be the greatest strategic irony of the last twenty years: the American lead in digital technologies – upon which our financial, communications and defense systems are built, and on which they depend – may also represent a serious American Achilles heel. The sophistication of our mobile phone networks, of the GPS system that guides air traffic, even of the networked command-and-control that drives our power grids, may be without rival. But it also provides one great big and sprawling target to enemies determined to discover the choke points that can cripple us in a time of war.
At least that’s the scenario as described in various, and increasingly alarmed media accounts, especially in the wake of incidents like the hacking of Google last year, by digital assailants often described (without clear confirmation) as being based in China. It’s indeed alarming, to contemplate fighting the next war with both hands tied behind our backs because a canny enemy figured out how to shut us down electronically.
Alarming – but possibly, also, alarmist? Can we really be that vulnerable? Is our digital undergirding really that exposed, especially given that the Internet itself – the foundation of all this critical connectedness – was itself initially developed as a military undertaking? Even if our enemies – state enemies or terrorists – manage to cause damage in one corner of American cyberspace, don’t we have enough redundancy built in to protect us? As one technology writer has put it, this is one of those topics where the internet press likes to get worked up into a lot of “heavy breathing.”
So which is it? Are we at existential risk in the event of a well coordinated cyber attack, and if so, are we taking measures to protect ourselves? Or will the first cyber war be a war we are already positioned not only to survive, but to win?
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