Going on the offensive against cyberattacks – The Washington Post

On July 25, 2012, The Washington Post’s published an editorial entitled “Slipping through the ’Net” in its mobile edition or “Stockpiling arms against cyberattacks” in its regular online edition querying why there is so much “complacency” in the face of evidence and reports that “the current strategic cyber environment is fundamentally unstable.” (Quoting a report by the Cyber Conflict Studies Association, available here.) The Post supports a House bill that “would set voluntary security standards for companies that run critical infrastructure,” calling it “not optimal“ but “a worthwhile start.”  This is significant in that The Post appears to support mandatory regulation of  cyberspace by the U.S. Government.  That raises a slew of issues too numerous and complex for here.

Another aspect of the editorial, brought to our attention by colleague Shay Colson, is its last paragraph, which calls for an open debate:

The U.S. government has revealed little about its offensive activities in this sphere. We think this is shortsighted. Two years ago, the National Research Council found that the government’s policy and legal framework for offensive cyber-programs was “ill-formed, undeveloped and highly uncertain.” Is it any different today? An open, vigorous debate is needed about the threat of cyberwar and the potential response. We had a decades-long debate about nuclear weapons, and it was healthy for the country and the world. We ought to bring the discussion about offensive cyber-conflict out of the shadows.

Some years ago, Richard A. Clarke more fully developed this contrast to the debate about nuclear weapons.  He wrote in Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It:

Maybe there should be public discussion precisely because so much of the work has been stamped secret. In the 1950s and 1960s, people like Herman Kahn, Bill Kaufmann, and Albert Wohlstetter were told that nuclear war was something that could not really be discussed publicly. One of Kahn’s responses was a book called Thinking About the Unthinkable (1962), which contributed to a robust public dialogue about the moral, ethical, and strategic dimensions of nuclear war. Open research and writing done at MIT, Harvard, Princeton, Chicago, and Stanford also contributed.

This was the danger, as recounted by Clarke:

No one knew exactly what would happen if either the United States or the Soviet Union tried to launch several hundred nuclear-armed ballistic missiles more or less simultaneously, but internally the American military thought that over 90 percent of its missiles would launch, make it to their targets, and detonate their weapons. They had similarly high expectations that they knew what the effects of their weapons would be on the targets. To insure a major attack would work, if attempted, the U.S. military planned on hitting important targets with nuclear warheads from three different delivery mechanisms ….

In short, lacking a public debate, the military built weapons and warfighting plans that made little sense and accepted catastrophic casualties.  But, literally thinking about the unthinkable resulted in thoughtful, useful strategies which the military on its own had not developed before deploying new technologies in the form of obscenely destructive weapons. Clarke, again:

As an analyst and advisor, [Professor William W. Kaufmann] had been one of a handful of civilians who had created the framework of strategic nuclear war doctrine in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They had walked the United States back from a nuclear strategy that had called for the United States to go first in a nuclear war, to use all of its nuclear weapons in one massive attack, and to destroy hundreds of cities in Europe and Asia. Bill and his colleagues had probably prevented a global nuclear war and had made strategic arms control possible.

Clarke, Richard A.; Knake, Robert (2010-04-02). Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It . Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Clarke concludes that “The dialogue we need [about cyber war] will require meaningful academic research and teaching, a shelf of new books, in-depth journalism, and serious congressional oversight.” Id. at pp. 263-264.

As  Georges Clemenceau said: “La guerre! C’est une chose trop grave pour la confier à des militaires” [War is too important a matter to be left to the military]. Quite right, and that includes cyber war the same as any other form of war.  I write that with the greatest respect for the military.  Its academic institutions generate some of the best-educated leaders in history.  They want our help, as long as our contributions are well-informed, thoughtful, and responsible.  The cost of a national debate will be sufficient transparency to enable its contributors to be well informed – sufficient to avoid a debate based upon rumors and fear mongering.  That transparency goes against the grain for many of the reported 4.8 million people who hold security clearances, but “meaningful academic research and teaching, … in-depth journalism, and serious congressional oversight” require facts in order to be useful, and useful they must be if we are to be secure in cyber.

Let the debate begin!

Going on the offensive against cyberattacks – The Washington Post

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Professor William Snyder

Professor William C. Snyderis a member of the faculty of the Institute for National Security and Counter-terrorism at Syracuse University after fifteen years with the United States Department of Justice.

Ryan D. White

Ryan D. WhiteRyan is currently a third year law student at Syracuse University College of Law, and is also pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree from Syracuse’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Ryan spent time with Homeland Security Investigations while pursuing his undergraduate degree at Wesleyan University, and spent his first summer of law school as clerk for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of New York. He is a member of Syracuse Law Review, the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis, and participates in the Veteran’s Legal Clinic. Full biography

Shelby E. Mann

Ryan D. WhiteShelby is a second year law student at the Syracuse University College of Law. During her final year at the University of Missouri, she served as a full-time news producer for ABC 17 News. Shelby spent her first summer of law school at the Shelby County District Attorney General's Office in Memphis, Tenn., in the Public Corruption and Economic Crimes Unit. She is a member of Syracuse Law Review, the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis, and the senior editor for the Syrian Accountability Project. Full biography

Christopher w. FolkChristopher W. Folk

is a 2017 graduate of SU College of Law. A non-traditional student, Christopher returned to academia after spending nearly twenty years in the high tech industry. Christopher served in the Marine Corps, graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. In Applied Economics and Business Management, attended Northeastern University’s High-Tech MBA Program and received a M.S. In Computer Information Systems. Christopher previously worked in Software Engineering. Christopher is currently serving his second term as Town Justice for the Town of Waterloo. Christopher externed with a Cybersecurity firm in the Washington, D.C. area between his first and second year at SU College of Law. Full biography

Anna Maria Castillo

Anna Maria Castillois 2016 graduate of Syracuse College of Law. She also holds a Master of Arts in International Relations from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She has interned at a London-based think-tank that specializes in transnational terrorism and global security and at the legal department of a defense contractor. She served as an executive editor in the Syracuse Law Review. Full biography

Jennifer A. CamilloJennifer A. Camillo

is a 2015 graduate of Syracuse College of Law and is a prosecutor. She has served as a law clerk in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York and the Cayuga County District Attorney’s Office and as an extern in the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office. She was a member of the Syracuse National Trial Team and was awarded the Tiffany Cup by the New York Bar Association for her trial advocacy achievements.

Tara J. PistoreseTara J. Pistorese

holds Juris Doctor and Masters of Public Administration degrees from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and its College of Law. She wrote for this blog when a student. She is now a member of the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps.

Benjamin Zaiser

is both a scholar and a Federal Agent of the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany. (Opinions expressed here are his own and not any part of official duty.) Full biography

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