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Inside Cyber Warfare: Mapping the Cyber Underworld

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I was recently invited to participate in a cyber security dinner discussion by a few members of a well-known Washington, DC, think tank. The idea was that we could enjoy a fine wine and a delicious meal while allowing our hosts to pick our brains about this “cyber warfare stuff.” It seems that the new threatscape emerging in cyberspace has caught them unprepared and they were hoping we could help them grasp some of the essentials in a couple of hours. By the time we had finished dinner and two bottles of a wonderful 2003 red, one of the Fellows in attendance was holding his head in his hands, and it wasn’t because of the wine. International acts of cyber conflict (commonly but inaccurately referred to as cyber warfare) are intricately enmeshed with cyber crime, cyber security, cyber terrorism, and cyber espionage. That web of interconnections complicates finding solutions because governments have assigned different areas of responsibility to different agencies that historically do not play well with others. Then there is the matter of political will. When I signed the contract to write this book, President Obama had committed to make cyber security a top priority in his administration. Seven months later, as I write this introduction, cyber security has been pushed down the priority ladder behind the economy and health care, and the position of cyber coordinator, who originally was going to report directly to the President, must now answer to multiple bosses with their own agendas. A lot of highly qualified candidates have simply walked away from a position that has become a shadow of its former self. Consequently, we all find ourselves holding our heads in our hands more often than not. Cyberspace as a warfighting domain is a very challenging concept. The temptation to classify it as just another domain, like air, land, sea, and space, is frequently the first mistake that’s made by our military and political leaders and policymakers. I think that a more accurate analogy can be found in the realm of science fiction’s parallel universes—mysterious, invisible realms existing in parallel to the physical world, but able to influence it in countless ways. Although that’s more metaphor than reality, we need to change the habit of thinking about cyberspace as if it’s the same thing as “meat” space.
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