Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Cyber War is Here

Cyber Kitchener
Will you answer Cyber Kitchener's call? the McAfee report points out, the cyber cold war is already underway, and it will only escalate as more nations develop cyber capabilities. While Britain’s announcement may make online threats more likely in the short term, it will also provide the first test of whether offensive cyber capabilities can serve as a deterrent measure against future attacks. And if other countries follow Britain’s lead, it will bring cyber security policy out into the open, aligning public debate with the realities of modern war.
From Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., "'Cyberwar' is Over Hyped: It Ain't War Til Someone Dies":
Healey doesn’t think much of some of the ethical and strategic choices the US has made, either. “I’m so against things like Stuxnet [and] how aggressive the NSA has been,” he said at Brookings. “We’ve got glass infrastructure and we shouldn’t be throwing stones.” Indeed, Healey argued that the military has grown too dominant in cybersecurity policy, which has been “militarized” in large part because of over-hyped fears of cyberwar.
For several years now we have been hearing whispers of a coming "cyber war," and it appears that Britain has moved from whispers to shouting, having announced earlier this week the formation of a UK Cyber Command.  Certainly they are not the first to form such a unit, but as Wyler points out, there is something about the brazenness of their announcement that makes the UK's actions seemingly different from those of the US, China, and other cyber-armed countries.

Yet, as Freedberg Jr. puts it pithily, we are likely overly hasty in our proclamations, as "it ain't war til someone dies," and there certainly appears to be a big difference between what military software can do and what military hardware can do.

How then should we view this situation, as one of bellicose escalation or as one of empty posturing?

Perhaps William James can be of use here.  As James points out in his "The Moral Equivalent of War" essay from 1910,
It may even reasonably be said that the intensely sharp preparation for war by the nations is the real war, permanent, unceasing; and that the battles are only a sort of public verification of the mastery gained during the "peace"-interval.
Should we then think, contrary to those who see cyber "war" as a misnomer, that in fact the "preparation" is the cyberwar?  In other words, war and violence should not be thought of as defined and delimited by body counts as Thomas Rid and Steven Pinker would suggest, for the atmosphere surrounding warfare can itself be violent, as James is here suggesting, and as Frantz Fanon argued in his The Wretched of the Earth.  A cyber army need not ever take a life in order to have a violent impact on life, even if that impact were to only be imagined by the hysteria over cyberwar rather than felt by the declaration of a cyberwar.

The talk of cyberwar is leading us to less and less trust the internet as we each day become more and more dependent on the internet, creating a state of existential anxiety wherein our cyberurges are the cyberweapons of each of our personal cyberwars.  In other words, cyberwar is real and it is already here.

Cyber Daddy
Is this what you want your children asking you one day?
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