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About CyberWar, Deterrence, and Espionage

 

About CyberWar, Deterrence, and Espionage

February 14, 2011 – 8:26 am

It’s been a long time since my last post, but trust me for all the good reasons (i.e. work). This one is long due, and has been recently fueled after I had a chance to attend RAND’s Martin Libicki’s brief at the Tel-Aviv University.

Martin is a great source for debate and thought exercises as he is fluent in many realms of the subject at hand, and has been trained as an economist which makes it much easier to broaden the debate into politics and diplomacy.

I’ll address a few key elements of the brief – at least the ones that speak to me the most in terms of research and ongoing work that we are engaged in on a national, international and local levels.

First – the ever provoking “there is no CyberWar” statement. Immediately followed by “this is the definition of CyberWar as I see it”… Obviously, with a definition that closely resembles war as defined in other domains (land, sea, air, space), it’s hard to see how one can state that CyberWar was ever engaged (or ever will be for that matter). But the key here is not to treat the Cyber domain as “another” domain and try to use the template of the traditional domains when defining it. Cyber is a game-changer, it’s not a domain like any other, it has its own rules, territorial issues are mute here, jurisdiction is a mess, and accessibility is even worst. It’s almost impossible to define what a conflict is in Cyber, what an engagement is in terms of forces colliding and how is aggression defined. Nevertheless, all the issues mentioned in the last sentence have risen many times over the last decade, and yet some refuse to realize that in several occasions it was indeed a state or form of warfare.

The second issue is deterrence. On this one I almost completely agree with Martin’s approach which speculates whether real deterrence can be subjected into the domain. Nevertheless, I do believe that sustained and proven threat over the opponent’s critical infrastructure, financial and base production facilities can be used as a deterrence factor. You do not need missile silo counts to prove deterrence in the Cyber domain, you need sustainable access to critical systems, and a prove that you can retain such access in light of some vulnerabilities and key access elements being taken off the table by the defensive strategy. For that – enter espionage… With a combination of cyber-domain capabilities, and a solid intelligence practice (i.e. both gathering as well as proactive), one side can create a situation where such access to critical elements in the other side’s Cyber domain are kept consistently under surveillance and accessible to modification/sabotage.

Which leads to the last issue, which has surprisingly raised a lot of eyebrows lately – even from people who I consider proficient in the “Art” of international relationships and diplomacy: the “legality” of espionage. Face it – espionage has been and will always be a fully acceptable part of a nation strategy. It is accepted at all level of diplomacy, and by every nation. Everyone knows that everyone else is engaged in it, and is putting a lot of resources to make sure that their efforts are successful while trying to minimize everyone else’ efforts in their own territory. The same applies for the Cyber domain. It’s no big surprise that the US finds itself dealing with a major espionage case (on the commercial level) almost every year, and just think about all the cases that are not made public in the government, and military sectors… But have no fear – the other side is being spied on just as well with skills that do not fall short (and usually surpass) of what the US is subjected to. It’s a fact of life, so stop whining about it (and excuse the burn notice cameo).

By iamit

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