Thursday, June 12, 2008

Militarized Cyberspace

A recent post on the TomDispatch website about the Air Force’s new Cyber Command raises many issues worth considering. Although I do not take as alarmist a view as William Astore, the author of the post, I think it is a matter calling for some scrutiny.

Astore describes the Cyber Command’s mission of protecting the United States and, more specifically, the Pentagon, from foreign computer hackers as essentially Bush-era paranoia. I am not so sanguine. Cyber warfare is rapidly becoming part of international relations. (Witness the attack on the Estonian government’s computers by hackers emanating from a country formerly known as the Soviet Union.)

In America’s case, the Pentagon is increasingly subject to hacking attempts from foreign countries, particularly China. As Richard Clarke noted on NPR's Fresh Air, Given the amount of information now stored on computers, it only makes sense that foreign governments will attempt to gain access through illicit means. It’s just James Bond 2.0. We should do everything we can to prevent such intrusions.

Nevertheless, Astore’s report raises some troubling issues. First is the threat to privacy on the web. Astore warns of the government’s increasing power to tap into private web and telephone communications. For instance, the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act requires the installment of equipment by ISPs for easy wiretapping. Organizations such as the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) have been sounding the warning about this trend for a while.

Equally worrisome is the Cyber Command’s plan to develop offensive Net-based weapons for use against other countries. This plan is summed up by what Air Force insiders apparently call D5, the capacity to “deceive, deny, disrupt, degrade, and destroy” other nations’ computer networks. This plan is troubling not only on the moral front, but also because of its potential to encourage other nations to further develop their cyberwar abilities. As Astore warns, we may well find ourselves in a cyber arms race.

No comments: