Cross posting with the Niskanen Center
Brandon Valeriano and Allison Pytlak
This week the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE), as part of the United Nations, is meeting once again in what has become a regular reflection of current thought in the field of cyber security internationally. ‘Reflection’ is the perfect word to describe what the GGE does because it’s not clear to what purpose the group is moving. It might be a useful exercise to review what we know about cyber security at this point and why the GGE will fail to engage with the most pressing problems generated in and from cyberspace.
The CNN report supporting the conclusion that Russia has been hacking the State Department and the White House for months plays into the cyber security narrative for both sides of the debate, those who see little new from the cyber domain and those who see this as a revolution in military and diplomatic affairs. Given my perspective as a cyber moderate, I find much of the same with the incident. It does demonstrate that cyber actions are a reality and occurring with more frequency, but it also supports the point we make throughout our book that cyber actions are typically low level espionage attacks and often the fault of the target.
In the cyber security discourse, critics of cyber revolution hypotheses and the dominant coming “cyberwar” narrative tend to be painted as cyber skeptics. I refuse to accept this terminology. It is a dangerous and dismissive technique that seeks to limit the influence of moderates and critics because they will not proselytize about the expanding range of military power in the digital age. It also obscures a greater point, we can study the field of cyber security as the domain evolves and not assume that we have seen the evolution play out already with the emergence of the technology. As with all technologies that might have a role to play in war and diplomacy, we have to understand its uses, limits, and impacts. To be moderate about this process accepts that all research is confronted with promises and pitfalls, that there is much to discover before we assume knowledge.