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[ NNSquad ] The Cyberwar in the Mirror

                         The Cyberwar in the Mirror


In the classic Warner Bros. "Road Runner" cartoons, the stubborn
but often quite technically sophisticated Wile E. Coyote
("Carnivorous Vulgaris") not only persistently failed to capture
his avian prey ("Accelleratii Incredibus") but more often than
not ended up crushed, mangled, or otherwise seriously injured as his
own technologies boomeranged against him during his ultimately
hopeless pursuits of the Road Runner.

The forlorn look on Wile's face as he hovered momentarily beyond the
edge of a cliff, just before his long and painful plunge to the canyon
floor far below, might be worth keeping in mind when we consider the
real world's headlong rush into the theory, industries, and practice
of "cyberwar" and its associated tradecrafts.

To be sure, we can certainly stipulate that genuine computer-related
risks to businesses, infrastructure, and other aspects of our
increasingly interconnected societies do actually exist.

Yet it is also clear that the business of "cyber-scaremongering" has
become enormous indeed, with billions of dollars, euros, and other
currencies riding on convincing politicians that computer hacking is
somehow equivalent in scale to global thermonuclear war.

In fact, the degree of purposeful exaggeration being invoked toward
this cause, along with rigged demos specifically designed to confuse
lay (that is, essentially non-technical) observers, are awe-inspiring
in their sheer audacity.

This should not be unexpected though.  Cyberwar (and its close
relative "cyberterrorism") have become major profit centers for
private industry, a means to expand Pentagon and other government
spending during a time of calls for reduced conventional weapons
outlays, and also the currency of ongoing struggles for power between
various agencies.

As part and parcel of this new regime, we're now seeing explicit
recruiting calls not only for large number of defensive cyberwar
operatives, but especially now for *offensive* cyber-attack experts
and trainees, presumably toward creating the next Stuxnet, Flame, or
other cyberattack vectors aimed at adversaries' (presumably ever more
hardened) facilities and systems.

But defending computer-based operations -- while no walk in the park
to be sure -- does not functionally require the same magnitude of
resources as building aircraft carriers, training vast military
forces, and churning out millions of tons of munitions.

Over time, it is likely to become ever more difficult to penetrate
these cyber-systems, with the "easy pickings" increasingly relegated
to the history books.

But the consequences of our vast cyberwar mobilizations could still be
enormous, and perhaps not in the ways that our leaders had intended.

It seems unlikely in the extreme that any government would endorse the
distribution of "do-it-yourself atomic bomb kits." (Step 317: Always
wash your hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water after handling
fissile material.)

So it is perhaps with a sense of somewhat sardonic bemusement that we
can view the rise of skilled government-supported cyberattack
warriors, whose talents we should not expect to be forever directed at
their governments' designated targets.

These skills are particularly potent since they by and large do not
need a great deal of infrastructural support to deploy, and may be
easily transferred between persons and groups, or between operational
specialties -- for example, the transition from cyberattacks to
evasive communications.

The vast, fundamental flexibility of the Internet, with the
opportunities for even unaffiliated individuals to assert significant
asymmetric power through various means of obfuscation, cannot be

This is especially important given the dramatic increases in
government attempts to throttle, limit, and otherwise control Internet

In the U.S., legislation such as SOPA and PIPA would have censored Web
sites for the benefit of private industry.  Takedowns of domain names
without true due process, via government manipulation of the
antiquated Domain Name System (DNS) have become all too common.
Around the world, Internet speech is more and more controlled, videos
are blocked, and search engines are subjected to censorship demands
for essentially political reasons.

In Europe, the ham-fisted "right to be forgotten" threatens huge
potential damage to freedom of information from search engines and
other sources, with stupendous abuse potential.

And as if all that and more weren't enough, we now see the encroaching
specter of the United Nation's ITU -- clearly feeling empowered by
national governments' increasing anger at ICANN's continuing "off the
rails" shenanigans -- threatening to bring a whole new dimension of
nightmares to the Internet, with a likely effect of ensconcing via
international treaties many of the worst of these governments' abuses
against the Net.

It is perhaps poetic justice of a sort -- in the vein of "reap what
you sow"-- that efforts to constrain the Internet by governments may
ultimately be undermined by the very same cyberwar principles,
talents, and technologies that those same governments have nurtured
for an entirely different set of goals.

For as governments attempt to crack down on their own populations'
free speech and information access on the Net, they are likely to
discover that the Internet's flexibility -- and cyberwar skills -- may
easily combine toward protecting the Net for its user community and
associated speech and communications rights, rather than solely
serving the will of national or other government edicts.

This then is the cyberwar in the mirror, the Pandora's box releasing
energies that may actually serve not only evil, but good as well, in
ways that may be wholly unexpected by the governments that chose to
create and invoke their powers.

Of course, our leaders around the world may choose to minimize or
ignore these scenarios, and simply plow ahead toward their planned
cyberwar nirvanas.

But in doing so, they may still risk much the same fate as a certain
hungry animated coyote, who learned the hard way that once you step
off the cliff, you can wave your arms, try to tread air, and hold up
printed signs of desperation, but the only exit is still straight down.

Lauren Weinstein (lauren@vortex.com): http://www.vortex.com/lauren 
Co-Founder: People For Internet Responsibility: http://www.pfir.org 
 - Data Wisdom Explorers League: http://www.dwel.org
 - Network Neutrality Squad: http://www.nnsquad.org 
 - Global Coalition for Transparent Internet Performance: http://www.gctip.org
 - PRIVACY Forum: http://www.vortex.com 
Member: ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Lauren's Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com
Google+: http://vortex.com/g+lauren / Twitter: http://vortex.com/t-lauren 
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800 / Skype: vortex.com
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