The pressures for preemptive global cyberwar are building, not because of the conclusion it provides but because of the salvation it offers.
Too many weapons. Too many bad actors. Too many untenable motives.
Such is the realm of cyberspace conflict today, a world where weapons are readily available and new antagonists seeking to advance their agendas can enter the fray with ease.
These are just three of the forces driving a global marathon that is racing toward a dangerous outcome. Only a few – if any – winners will cross the finish line.
It is a world in which the nation-states with cyber power moderate usage of their cyber weapons: China and Russia because they are perhaps satisfied with the intellectual property and military plans they retrieve; Iran and North Korea perhaps due to their fear of retaliation.
The newer cast of bad actors are another problem altogether. Extremists and the growing forces of cyber militias have no such fears and thus present a major danger to the U.S., Britain and other developed nations.
With no one else to rein these dangerous new players in, the U.S. will be forced to take offensive action, even if it takes the form of a widespread cyberwar. Here’s why:
- Playing cyber defense is a losing game. In an environment where defenses are limited in effectiveness and each attack is certain to differ from the last, the U.S. finds it impossible to protects its plans, intelligence and critical infrastructures with any degree of success.
- Too many moving parts. The global cyberwarfare machine is increasingly filled with too many aggressors and moving parts to be successfully defended against in a piecemeal fashion.
- No norms or rules of behavior. Even if a rulebook for cyber conflict existed, it wouldn’t be followed by the bad actors, many of whom have neither accountability for their results nor understanding of possible outcomes from their actions.
These forces create a dangerous and unsustainable world that is incompatible with America’s need for security. The U.S. must therefore switch to an offensive posture in cyberspace.
A strategic U.S. shift in emphasis from defensive to offensive cyber operations has already started to occur. And this is not a move without precedent: the U.K. has already signaled its intent to become offensively driven in national defense cyber operations.
The unbridled, unruly, and uncontrollable forces of conflict in cyberspace must be reined in – and soon. The alternative is to give the bad actors time to further develop their attack methods and use them with impunity, sweeping the U.S. and the developed world into an unstable future filled with unimaginable dangers.
The clock is running out.
It may take destructive attacks on the U.S. to ignite action, but one additional step must be taken.
To avoid an eventual global cyber conflict of major proportions (most certainly involving kinetic attacks), the U.S. will find that massive, preemptive cyber strikes delivered on its terms, timetable, and targets are both justified and required.
Is this extreme action?
Carl Sagan, the famed scientist and astronomer, is reported to have remarked he felt the reason our years of searching for intelligent species in the universe have not produced a single sign of life is because the advanced civilizations always destroy themselves.
Is that how we want our obituary to read?