Magazine article Foreign Affairs

Deterring Cyberattacks: How to Reduce Vulnerability

Magazine article Foreign Affairs

Deterring Cyberattacks: How to Reduce Vulnerability

Article excerpt

Deterring Cyberattacks How to Reduce Vulnerability The Cybersecurity Dilemma: Hacking, Trust, and Fear Between Nations BY BEN BUCHANAN. Oxford University Press, 2017, 304 pp.

Cyberspace in Peace and War BY MARTIN C. LIBICKI. Naval Institute Press, 2016, 496 pp.

In the two years before the 2016 U.S. presidential election, hackers targeted a number of prominent political organizations of both parties, including the Democratic National Committee (dnc), and managed to steal a trove of documents pertaining to the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. The hackers got ahold of private e-mails, including those belonging to Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the dnc chair, and John Podesta, Clinton's campaign chair. Some of these exchanges discussed hot-button issues such as the Clinton Foundation's fundraising or suggested that senior dnc figures had sought to aid Clinton in her primary campaign against Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

As the presidential election drew near, a number of websites, including WikiLeaks, began publishing the stolen e-mails, fueling right-wing conspiracy theories about Clinton and generating anger among Sanders supporters. Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, seized on the leaks to criticize his opponent; "I love WikiLeaks!" he declared at a rally in October. Meanwhile, Democrats seethed as reports emerged that the hackers were linked to Russian military and intelligence agencies.

Those rumors were officially confirmed in early October when the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security issued a joint statement asserting that the Russian government had been behind the hacking, which aimed to interfere with the election. In January, the odni released a declassified report stating even more definitively that the hacking had been part of a Russian attempt to "undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order" by sowing chaos and eroding faith in the democratic process. "There should be no fuzz on this whatsoever: the Russians interfered in our election," James Comey, the former director of the fbi, said in testimony before Congress in June. Comey had previously issued a warning about the Russians: "They'll be back in 2020. They may be back in 2018, and one of the lessons they may draw from this is that they were successful because they introduced chaos and division and discord."

One reason Moscow succeeded is that Washington has failed to devise a strategy to deter cyberattacks or to respond strongly enough when such attacks have occurred. In the face of crafty and concerted assaults on U.S. interests, Washington's retaliatory measures have amounted to little more than largely symbolic sanctions and diplomatic slaps on the wrist. This has remained true even in the wake of Russia's unprecedented meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Put simply, the United States failed to deter Russia; instead, Russia has deterred the United States from meaningful retaliation.

Two recent books illuminate the immensely complex issues at play. In The Cybersecurity Dilemma, Ben Buchanan, a cybersecurity specialist at Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center, outlines the structural challenges unique to interactions among states in cyberspace. In Cyberspace in Peace and War, the economist and security expert Martin Libicki authoritatively details states' operational and strategic considerations in the cyber-realm. These two books add nuance to debates about digital conflicts while resisting the temptation to treat them as analogous to nuclear or conventional ones. And together, they help explain why the United States has failed to adequately protect itself from cyberthreats.

Although these authors do not address the hacking that targeted the 2016 campaign, they offer clear-eyed reviews of U.S. responses to earlier state-sponsored hacks and provide analytic frameworks that could help policymakers think through the challenge of preventing future digital assaults. …

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