Monday, March 14, 2011

Cyber Conflict and State Power

There has been a rapid change in the global security paradigm. Cyberspace has fundamentally changed the stability between state and society. New conflict groups are not tied to any one state. There is a boom in conflict. Dangers come from many sources, not just military. The distinction between civilian, domestic, guerilla, terrorist, and criminal is blurred – small numbers of individuals can inflict great harm upon the establishment – perhaps more-so than any army. Recent activities have been directed at states themselves (Egypt/Iran/US/Estonia/Georgia). International bodies have been notably absent in their duties to protect its members (UN/NATO).

The security environment is defined by the state’s weakness in cyberspace. The borders are permeable because the information flow is weakly controlled – there is no better example than Wiki-Leaks. The threat today is not from the projection of power, but instead from the projection of instability. Power projection defines a state's ability to influence and enforce their policy globally, which can be seriously harmed by not applying equal effort in cyberspace (Georgian conflict). You need a passport to travel to a foreign land but can reach that country's marketplace in milliseconds via cyberspace, without ever crossing a checkpoint. Any group can influence a state's population using social media outlets, including but not limited to instigating riots or uprisings (Egypt/Iran), as well as spreading disinformation.

The U.S. war on terrorism is an example of this fight. The shadowy cell-based terrorist network cannot be linked to any one state. We live in an increasingly borderless world system. Groups are recruited and mustered entirely on the international stage of cyberspace, and include members from many countries. New conflict actors are flocking to cyberspace for communication, organization, and as a medium of attack – both directly through criminal assault and through influence campaigns and control of media. Threat actors include transnational criminals, warlords for profit, economic insurgents, state intelligence, and agents of industrial espionage.

Cyber is a zone of lawlessness and conflict. While not armed in the traditional sense of explosives, the landscape is ripe for soft munitions that can alter industrial operations with a few lines of code (Stuxnet). The traditional means of peaceful activists have migrated to acts of criminal nature, favoring methods such as denial of service, intimidation, theft, harassment, defamation, disinformation, hacking, and cyber-thuggery. Peaceful protests such as sit-ins or boycotts have been replaced by violations of Federal statutes without fear of prosecution, and states are increasingly challenged to bring charges against the perpetrators due to the ability to exploit the world stage of cyberspace.

When the citizens of one nation wage cyberwar against the government of another, the international treaties that trigger the right to wage war (jus ad bellum) are absent, and the conduct of protecting a nation under these acts are not governed (jus ad bello).

The implications of all nations not cooperating to develop and enforce regulations, treaties, extradition, and establishing cyber checkpoints will continue to occur with increasing severity.

-Greg Hoglund