I've been mulling over Monday night's Four Corners report on cybersecurity, and I find that my feelings are captured nicely by a Bruce Scheier column from back in March:
...remember: none of this is cyberwar. It's all espionage, something that's been going on between countries ever since countries were invented. What moves public opinion is less the facts and more the rhetoric, and the rhetoric of war is what we're hearing.
The result of all this saber-rattling is a severe loss of trust, not just amongst nation-states but between people and nation-states. We know we're nothing more than pawns in this game, and we figure we'll be better off sticking with our own country.
Unfortunately, both the reality and the rhetoric play right into the hands of the military and corporate interests that are behind the cyberwar arms race in the first place. There is an enormous amount of power at stake here: not only power within governments and militaries, but power and profit amongst the corporations that supply the tools and infrastructure for cyber-attack and cyber-defense. The more we believe we are "at war" and believe the jingoistic rhetoric, the more willing we are to give up our privacy, freedoms, and control over how the Internet is run.
I also found the argument that China is focusing on cyberwar to compenstate for its military weakness misplaced. Journalist Andrew Fowler said 'One possible reason China is so committed to cyber warfare is it has little alternative. Its military is no match for the West.' That's wrong on the facts; Chinese military modernisation is proceding at a rapid clip, and in scenarios close to China's borders, the PLA is very much a 'match' for the West.
Also, as today's Washington Post exclusive describes it, much of China's cyber espionage activity is in fact designed to try to correct China's remaining military weaknesses. Far from the cyber realm being an alternative to developing conventional capabilities, it's an enabler of it.
Photo by Flickr user mattallworth.