Battlefield Focus Ignores Strategic Cyber Attacks
by Ben Mazzotta
Wednesday, July 15, 2009 at 08:35 AM EDT
The focus of most reporting on cyber attacks and cyber security in military circles continues to distract the debate away from campaign level cyber attacks. Rather than discussing what a skilled nation-state adversary would do with currently available, known cyber attack strategies, coverage tends to focus on battlefield applications of information technology.
Take, for example, this story (excellent reporting, by the way). The headline calls attention to espionage, but the focus of the article is clearly on narrow tactical applications of information technology in urban warfare.
This is part of a much larger trend. Take the coverage of Peter Singerâ€™s excellent book and his TED talk. Editors, publishers and producers consider his work especially relevant is because the next generation of battlefield robots are here. They are easy to film. They make clear at a glance that they constitute a leap forward in military technology similar to the invention of the tank. Unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned tanks, and reconnaissance vehicles of all shapes and sizes have the capacity to fundamentally reshape combat tactics.
My beef is that future cyber attacks wonâ€™t be focused on the battlefield. Enterprises need to prepare themselves for future wars among great powers. The conduct of those wars will require that nation states incapacitate one anotherâ€™s economies (meaning both heavy manufacturing and a host of other critical infrastructure sectors, some of which are in services). The government cannot possibly protect all the businesses at risk from future cyber attacks. Controlling the territory of the United States, as a strategy, will be fundamentally insufficient to protect the nationâ€™s economic infrastructure, in an age of cyber attacks.
I applaud the coverage of cyber attacks in general, and all of the specific works and authors mentioned here. What I am advocating is a public discussion of how cyber attacks, similar to the one that occurred in Estonia, Georgia, and Krygyzstan, could be intensified to produce much more dangerous and lasting effects. The nationâ€™s future defense requires that businesses anticipate and mitigate the potential consequences of such attacks in the coming decades.
As we have recently learned from the financial crisis, the profit motive requires that businesses compete in a myopic environment. Managers and directors are paid to ensure that businesses donâ€™t leave profits on the table, even if that entails bearing significant risks, in order to outperform the competition. Enterprise risk in the face of careful, coordinated cyber attacks is enormous.
I would like to see the media elevate cyber conflict from a narrow tactical issue on the battlefield to a pivotal strategic problem in civil defense and national security.
This article originally appeared on Ben Mazzotta's Weblog.