“The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war.” [Said by either Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit or Sun Tzu, according to various sources on the Internet. You know how that goes.]
Military strategists and information security experts can agree on this: the world of 2020 will be here sooner than we realize, and being prepared for securing our borders in cyberspace must be every bit as urgent of a priority as controlling our physical borders. Christopher Bronk of Rice University explores the current state of affairs and imagines what we’ll be facing next decade in Blown to Bits: China’s War in Cyberspace, August-September 2020, published in the recent U.S. Air Force journal Strategic Studies Quarterly.
We don’t even have to look that far in the future to envision what such a cyberwar might entail, because we’ve already witnessed a few comparatively minor skirmishes on this potentially volatile battlefield. There was the Stuxnet “weaponized software” apparently taking aim at Iran’s nuclear program last year. The attack on financial institution Morgan Stanley by hackers in China as relatively long ago as 2009 was allegedly the work of the same hackers who directed their disruptive efforts toward Google and Yahoo! (among at least a score of top American companies) with “Operation Aurora.” The sniper-like precision and sophistication with which these two examples were carried out leads many top security experts to conclude that they’ve been developed by clandestine foreign government forces and not by, as much of the malware that we’ve seen up until now, nihilistic teenagers and mouthbreathing thrill seekers.
Anyone who’s ever played any of the games in Sid Meier’s Civilization series knows how fickle so-called allies can be on the world stage when their technology begins to outpace yours. And while you could correctly tell me that this particular example is only a game, the consequences of ignoring the threats surrounding you and falling behind result in only one thing: Napoleon sucker punches you with a dozen legionnaires when you’re busy trying to recover your spent treasury, and three turns later your citizens — down to the last city — are baking baguettes and playing accordions to greet their valiant liberators and it’s game over for you. (Oh, no, I’m not bitter. Lesson learned: never trust Napoleon, dummy.)
And whether so-called allies of 2011 become the sworn enemies of 2020 or not, being prepared to defend against the possibility of a cyberwar should it ever escalate to such a degree is imperative to the safety of our infrastructure. Bronk, himself a former diplomat, says: “Basically, many in the information security community have been saying either, ‘We’re in a cyberwar with China’ or ‘It’s time to prepare for a cyberwar with China.’ The points I’m trying to make are, first, that cyberwar is not a substitute for real warfare but instead may be a component of conventional or unconventional military action, and second, that there’s a great deal of very conventional thinking on this very unconventional topic.”