Cyber issues have not only dominated recent headlines, but they have more broadly evolved from a technology matter into an area that we all need to understand. To put it another way, cybersecurity and cyberwar has shifted from a “need to know” issue into one everyone needs to know more about, whether working in academics, politics, business, the military or law, or even just as good citizens or parents.
On January 6, 2014 the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence and Governance Studies at Brookings will launch the new book Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know. The first panel will feature co-authors Peter W. Singer and Allan Friedman discussing their book and the key questions of cybersecurity – how it all works, why it all matters and what we can do. A second panel will then feature some of the leading journalists on the cybersecurity beat today, exploring the challenges of reporting on a new domain and explaining its complexities to the public.
The Military Role in National Cybersecurity Governance
Cybersecurity – A New Challenge for Governments
The emergence of sophisticated information systems has transformed the world. But it has also created a major new challenge for governments. Cyber threats do not fit easily into the traditional security framework that now exists in most modern states. Under that model, law enforcement has evolved to protect us from threats within our society, while militaries have evolved primarily to protect from external threats (accepting that the extent to which the military is involved in domestic affairs varies from state to state). However, cyber threats often come from overseas, making it difficult for law enforcement to deter or punish them. Yet, as argued below, such threats rarely rise to the level that would warrant a military response. New approaches are required, and none of them are straightforward. Yet, how governments respond to those challenges will have international as well as domestic implications. The appropriate role of the military is central to this.
Understanding The Threat
The first challenge is to understand the nature of the threat. This includes acknowledging that there is a major difference of perspective within the international community between those states that prefer to talk about “information security,” including protecting citizens from what they consider harmful content, and others states that focus on “cybersecurity,” a narrower subset of information security. That is the security of electronic systems that carry the information. This paper focuses on cybersecurity, which is of course relevant to all.
Appreciation of the fact that not all “cyberattacks” are similarly motivated is essential to thinking about how government might address those threats. Different scholars use different taxonomies to describe the range of threats, but I prefer to use one adapted from the work of King’s College, London’s Dr. Thomas Rid. This breaks down the threat to “espionage,” “subversion,” and “sabotage,” as well as “cybercrime” and – only in very limited circumstances – “cyberwar.” I do not completely accept Rid’s argument that cyber war “will not take place,” but in any case this way of thinking about the issue points to the undoubted fact that the vast majority of cybersecurity breaches fall below the threshold that in the physical world we would call an “act of war.” The difference between these categories can be minimal – once inside a system, the difference between espionage and sabotage can be as little as a few keystrokes – but the difference is important, both legally (as described in the recently published Tallinn Manual) and politically. In other words, a military response is often not the best, or even a legal, response to a cyberattack… MORE