Cyber War

Reading through the articles on how to treat digital attacks vs. how we typically treat conventional attacks, I was struck by a common question that comes up in this topic, more or less: Are digital technologies that cannot directly kill people still a threat in the same way that conventional weaponry is?

Hearing about the NATO resolution is interesting, because there you have a clear case of nations treating digital attacks the way they would conventional ones. This is tricky though, because presumably there are people, nations in fact, constantly attacking one another in cyberspace. How do we distinguish between attacks in order to know when a retaliation is needed? Also, what would the retaliation be? I would presume it would also be a digital attack, commensurate with the initial attack. What if lives are lost?

I can think of a scenario in which a foreign aggressor would attack a piece of infrastructure that could lead to a death, or many. Would this necessitate an attack with conventional weaponry?

In the case of the US government, I guess I tend to always think that the NSA has a one-up on everyone else in terms of identifying threats and the initial location of attacks. This may be giving them too much credit, but the more I look into the NSA, the more it appears they have anticipated most questions dealing with security in cyberspace.

Kaplan mentioned an instance from the Cold War that I really enjoyed and thought was a telling bit of history. When the NSA listening post in Moscow, positioned atop a large building, caught fire, someone called the local head of station and asked what to do. He said “Let it burn”. This kind of incident is well-known in espionage, where an agency will opt to destroy something rather than have it fall in the wrong hands. Thinking about current technologies, in the networked world, I wonder just how advanced our tech is compared to others, or has there been a democratization of advanced technology? I have to figure that the NSA and DARPA and other agencies within agencies that try to stay one step ahead of everyone else have tech that must be advanced beyond what is conventionally available, even to specialists.


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