Academic journal article Parameters

Cyberwar to Wikiwar: Battles for Cyberspace

Academic journal article Parameters

Cyberwar to Wikiwar: Battles for Cyberspace

Article excerpt

Abstract: National leaders warn of a cyberwar and cyberterrorism that may lead to a potential "cyber Pearl Harbor." To prevent such an occurrence requires cyber defense or even some sort of cyber deterrence. Some policymakers even want cyber arms control. However, these concepts are a retrofitting of those used in the physical domain to describe violent acts and responses to them. Do these concepts help policymakers, national security professionals, and scholars understand aggressive acts perpetrated in cyberspace?

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A few days after the bombings at the Boston Marathon in April 2013, the Associated Press (AP) reported via Twitter, "Breaking: y Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured." The Dow Jones Industrial lost nearly 150 points; $136 billion of equity was suddenly gone. The AP's Twitter account, whose feed had been integrated into the reporting algorithms of the New York Stock Exchange a few days prior, was hacked by a group calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army, allowing it to tweet the fake message. Fortunately, the loss in national wealth was short-lived as stocks recovered their value within three minutes.

How do we place a context around what happened within those three minutes? Was this a salvo in a cyberwar initiated by the Syrian regime or a prank by an unaffiliated group for "lulz" (a corruption of "lol," "laugh out loud")? There was no permanent loss of capital and aside from the perpetrators, few would have actually laughed out loud. But there is still a sense of seriousness about this episode that reveals the genuine limits of our understanding of the cyber domain in the national security arena. Given the newness of the digital domain, its man-made origins, and its constantly changing nature due to manipulation by human beings, it should not be surprising that national security professionals reach for comfortable and familiar approaches. "Cyberattacks" are a daily, or more accurately a nanosecond-after-nanosecond, occurrence that requires "cyber security." National leaders warn of a "cyberwar" and "cyberterrorism" that may lead to a potential "cyber Pearl Harbor." To prevent such an occurrence requires "cyberdefense" or even some sort of "cyberdeterrence." Some policymakers want "cyber arms control" to limit what types of cyberattacks can be perpetrated against another country. These concepts are a retrofitting of those used in the physical domain to describe violent acts and responses to them. Do these concepts help policymakers, national security professionals, and scholars understand aggressive acts committed in cyberspace?

Richard Clarke in his book, Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It, believes these concepts are not only relevant, but also consistently overlooked by policymakers. For Clarke, a cyberwar refers "to actions by a nation-state to penetrate another nation's computers or networks for the purpose of causing damage or disruption" (6). In his first chapter, he details "trial runs" which are incidents of cyberwar perpetrated most notably by the Russians, North Koreans, and Israelis. These episodes are now well-known--the Israeli "owning" of Syria's air defense system in 2007; the suspected Russian distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks against Estonia in 2007 and the more sophisticated cyberattacks against Georgia in 2008; and the North Korean botnet attack against US websites in 2009. From these episodes, he derives four maxims: cyberwar is real; cyberwar happens at the speed of light; cyberwar is global; and cyberwar has begun. These maxims form the core of his book as he presents more accounts of the "cyberwarriors" in the "battlespace" and how the United States should prepare, defend, and retaliate.

Clarke spends the majority of his time reemphasizing these maxims throughout the book with brief examples. Clarke appears to be most worried about China, which he argues is "systematically doing all the things a nation would do if it contemplated having an offensive cyber war capability and also thought that it might itself be targeted by cyber war" (54). …

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