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 10

Posted in business and convergent technologies, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on June 4, 2018

This is my 10th 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 1-9.)

I sought to at least briefly lay out a fundamental challenge that we all face, globally, in Part 9. And I continue developing that narrative here by briefly repeating a four point starting assumptions list that I began that posting with, and a core point of conclusion that I arrived at from it, and from recent in the news events as well. I begin with the four basic points, somewhat edited for use in this next discussion step context:

• 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. (Yes, I phrase that in terms of developer and user representing the same active agent, as a developer who knowingly turns a cyber-weapon over to another, or others is in effect using that capability through them them and with those “outside” users serving as their agents in fact.)
• 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 that 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 crucially importantly here, given the nature of cyber-weapons it is possible to launch a cyber-attack 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, at least is a presumption that many holders of these weapons have come to assume, given the history of their use.

And with that restated, I offer my point of conclusion and concern as arise out of the above:

• 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 is, 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 experimentally. 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.

I stress the last sentence of that bullet pointed statement here, explicitly noting that while nuclear weapons and their development and even-just limited proliferation, led directly to a recognition and acceptance of the MAD doctrine: the MAD hypothesis, cyber-weapons and their much wider proliferation have led to what amounts to an anti-MAD presumption: a presumption of anonymity-based safety for any who would deploy and use such weapons. And that leads me to the to-address point that I added at the end of Part 9 as my intended area of discussion here:

• The issues of how better to respond to all of this, and reactively where that is necessary and proactively where that can be possible, have become an absolute imperative and for the safety of all. And my goal in addressing 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 that, 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.

I begin addressing that Gordian knot challenge by at least raising a perhaps simple sounding, wave of the hand solution to all of this, which I will address in the course of what follows: a need to develop a convincing cyber-weapons counterpart to the old nuclear weapons context MAD doctrine. And a key to that would of necessity require making the core of my above repeated fourth assumptions bullet point obsolete:

• Effectively ending any possible realistic presumption of anonymity as a protective cloak around any cyber attacker by making the consequences of relying upon it too costly and the chances of being found out and identified as the attacker too high.

This would require a coordinated, probably treaty-based response that would most likely have to be organized with United Nations support if not direct United Nations organizing oversight:

• Possible cyber-attack victims, and at all organizational levels from nation states on down to local businesses and organizations, have to be willing to both publically acknowledge when they have been breached or compromised by malware (cyber-weapons.)
• And organizations at all levels in this from those smaller local organizations on up to national organizations and treaty groups of them have to develop and use mechanisms for coordinating the collection and analysis of this data, and both to more fully understand the scope and nature of an attack and any pattern that it might fall into, and to help identify its source.
• And a MAD approach can only work if this type of analysis and discovery would in effect automatically lead to action, with widely supported coordinated sanctions imposed on any offenders so identified and verified, and with opportunity built into this to safeguard third parties who an actual attacker might set up as appearing to be involved in an attack event when they were not. (I made note of this type of misdirection as to attack source in Part 9 and raise that very real possibility here again too.)

There is an old saying to the effect that the devil is in the details. The above “solution” approach to this challenge might sound positive and nice when simply presented in the above type of broad brush stroke manner and without regard to, or even acknowledgment of the very real world complexities that any such resolution would require. I am going to at least briefly begin to chip away at the edges of the perhaps naive if well intentioned simplicity of what I have proposed here, in my next series installment where I will begin to delve into some of the details that any valid resolution to this challenge, would have to accommodate and deal with.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. 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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