World Gone Cyber MAD

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Many cyber experts say the United States is woefully ill prepared for a sophisticated cyber attack and that each passing day brings it one step closer to a potential virtual Armageddon. While the problems hindering the development of an effective and comprehensive cyber deterrence policy are clear (threat measurement, attribution, information-sharing, legal codex development, and poor infrastructure, to name several), this article focuses on one aspect of the debate that heretofore has been relatively ignored: that the futility of governmental innovation in terms of defensive efficacy is a relatively constant and shared weakness across all modern great powers, whether the United States, China, Russia, or others. In other words, every state that is concerned about the cyber realm from a global security perspective is equally deficient and vulnerable to offensive attack; therefore, defensive cyber systems are likely to remain relatively impotent across the board.

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Nuclear Lessons for Cyber Security

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Identifying “revolutions in military affairs” is arbitrary, but some inflection points in technological change are larger than others: for example, the gunpowder revolution in early modern Europe, the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century, the second industrial revolution of the early twentieth century, and the nuclear revolution in the middle of the last century.1 In this century, we can add the information revolution that has produced today’s extremely rapid growth of cyberspace. Earlier revolutions in information technology, such as Gutenberg’s printing press, also had profound political effects, but the current revolution can be traced to Moore’s law and the thousand-fold decrease in the costs of computing power that occurred in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

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Reality Check on a Cyber Force

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It is premature to call for a separate cyberspace armed service, independent of the other services and agencies, to project power and protect vital US national security and economic vitality interests. There are four key prerequisites before achieving this goal: 1) a unique, strategic military capability unachievable by any of the other services and agencies; 2) corresponding technological advances; 3) an unrestricted battlespace; and 4) political champions to maneuver the bureaucracy and pass legislation.

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