Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Rethinking national security in a post-2016 US presidential election context: conflict and cyber-conflict in an age of social media 9

Posted in business and convergent technologies, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on April 17, 2018

This is my 9th installment to a new series on cyber risk and cyber conflict in a still emerging 21st century interactive online context, and in a ubiquitously social media connected context and when faced with a rapidly interconnecting internet of things among other disruptively new online innovations (see Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2, postings 354 and loosely following for Parts 1-8.)

I raised then began to explore, a briefly stated set of points of consideration in Part 8, which I repeat here for smoother continuity of narrative as I continue addressing them:

• The underlying assumptions that a potential cyber-weapon developer (and user) holds, shape their motivating rationale for developing (and perhaps actively deploying and using) these capabilities.
• The motivating rationales that are developed and promulgated out of that, both determine and prioritize how and where any new such weapons capabilities would be test used, and both in-house if you will, and in outwardly facing but operationally limited live fire tests.
• And any such outwardly facing and outwardly directed tests that do take place, can be used to map out and analyze both adversarial capability for the (here nation state) players who hold these resources, and map out the types of scenarios they would be most likely to use them in if they were to more widely deploy them in a more open-ended and large scale conflict.

And I begin this posting by adding a complicating wrinkle to that progression of causally linked points of observation, and of concern. I have recurringly written in this blog about how it is possible for a nation, or an extra-national group or organization, or even a lone individual to develop and deploy malware, and even when that holds potential for causing the scale and degree of harm as to qualify as true cyber-weapons. And as part of this, I have recurringly written of how a cyber-attack can be launched and even with a great deal of impact on those under attack, in ways that can largely mask the source of this action – or at least raise questions of plausible deniability for them and even for extended periods of time.

That possibility cannot apply in a more conventional military or related weapons development and use context. And I cite the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as briefly discussed here in Part 8 as a working example of that. Japanese armed forces might have been able to mask the fact that such an attack was contemplated, or even that it was impending and even immediately so, leading up to that Sunday morning in Hawaii. But there could be no hiding of what was done, or how, or by whom once this attack was actually launched. Sources of cyber-attacks can be hidden and through a wide range of misdirecting means that might even implicate an uninvolved party as the apparent source. See, for example of this, my early posting: Stuxnet and the Democratization of Warfare, as written before it was fully established that two specific nations: the United States and Israel were behind the development and use of that weapon. (And for further details related to that event and a discussion of issues raised by it, see the series that that posting belongs to as can be found at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time as postings 58 and following, for its Parts 1-15.)

How does this developing narrative line connect into my above-repeated critical issues bullet points? The term “slippery slope” is all too often used as an attempted band aide over shoddy and gap-ridden thinking but it really does apply here and in this context:

• Anonymity of attack source, or at least the presumption of that and its likelihood can reduce the apparent risk of live-fire testing cyber-weapon capabilities and particularly against outside, foreign-based targets. And it can lesson any concerns-based pressure to limit the potential scale and impact of such tests. So even if a cyber-weapon developing agency: here national in nature, overtly seeks to “just test” at least as a matter of expressed policy and intent, this apparent and presumable fig leaf cover of security can increase the chances that they at least back into a much larger scale, and even open warfare situation – and then find themselves having to deal with the consequences.

Think of this as a matter of cyber-weapon capability, by its very nature, setting up what can amount to the opposite of the long-presumed threat-reducing result of nuclear deterrence. The more damaging the potential and even certain outcome of anyone launching nuclear weapons against an enemy, the more likely it becomes that all would be annihilated from them. This is the by-now widely and all but axiomatically assumed Mutually Assured Destruction or MAD hypothesis, and a hypothesis that few if any are willing to even seriously consider testing. And the more advanced and capable the nuclear weapons are that are developed, the greater the perceived and shared fear that they generate and for all from this, and the greater the impetus that this creates to prevent that from happening. Here in contrast, the more advanced and sophisticated that cyber-weapons become, the greater the risk that they will be used and certainly in “limited and controllable” live fire tests, that become increasingly likely to get out of control and with all of the escalation of conflict that that could lead to.

Where are we now in all of this? I write this posting at a time of escalating rhetoric and escalating genuine crisis behind that, over Russia’s repeated use of cyber-weapon capabilities and in ways that most would see as having crossed any conceivable “test-only” line – not that being tested upon by cyber-weapons would ever seem acceptable to a receiving target nation.

And with this, I lay out the basic problem, here focusing on the national and international context but with an awareness that these same issues play out in their smaller categorical scales too, from business and other non-national organization-targeted attack and threat of it, to identity theft and other related individual-targeting use of malware.

• Russia’s use of troll armies and other non-national resources and approaches in their attacks on foreign elections and referendums, blurs the line between scales and types of involved parties to this too, and on both attacker and attacked sides, to further complicate the progression of causally based concern raised in the first three bullet points as repeated at the top of this posting.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will at least begin to address the issues of how better to respond to all of this, and reactively where that is necessary and proactively where that can be possible. And my goal in this is ambitious as my intent here is to at least touch upon all involved levels of conflict and its potential, and from that of the individual to that of the nation state and of national alliances. And in the course of discussing issues that arise from all of this, I will of necessity reconsider a point of issue that has informed most all that I have written in this blog regarding cyber-security and the challenges that it faces: the impact of change and of disruptive change in all of this, where any solutions and approaches arrived at, of necessity have to be dynamically updatable and as part of their basic definitions.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its Page 2 continuation. And you can also find this and related material at Social Networking and Business 2, and also see that directory’s Page 1.

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