Cyber War Will Not Take Place | Thomas Rid

Summary of: Cyber War Will Not Take Place
By: Thomas Rid


In today’s world, the term ‘cyber war’ has become widely popular, sparking fear and tapping into the public’s imagination. Delve into the book summary of ‘Cyber War Will Not Take Place’ by Thomas Rid, where you’ll discover a more pragmatic view of the subject. Explore the intersection of cyberspace and political violence while drawing on the theories of the Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz. Gain insights into cyberweapons, cyber espionage, subversion within the digital landscape, and the challenges of identifying and addressing these covert activities. This summary unravels the complexities of cyberattacks by analyzing various real-world scenarios and their implications, ultimately demystifying the daunting concept of cyberwar.

Re-evaluating the Impact of Cyberattacks

The popular belief that cyberattacks are always violent and lead to casualties might not always hold. Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz’s theories show that acts of war must have a violent component, a political goal, and a clear target. Clausewitz’s ideas are still applicable in modern cyberspace. In most instances, cyberattacks are neither violent nor political, but only criminal and have no connection to war. However, cyberattacks can be effective in disabling targets that would otherwise require violence; for instance, an enemy can use a cyberattack to disable air defense systems instead of bombing them. Analysts need to differentiate between cyberattacks that fall into the category of garden-variety crime and those of conventional war. Cyberattacks that are somewhere in between the two can include espionage, subversion, and sabotage. As such, perceived acts of cyberwar might be more benign than often believed, and experts need to be vigilant and classify cyberattacks based on their motivations.

Cyberweapons and Violence

The use of cyberweapons and its effectiveness in causing harm to structures, systems, and living beings is a topic of discussion in this book. The author examines whether the Israeli attack on a Syrian radar station in 2007, which allowed the bombing of a nuclear reactor, constitutes cyberwar. Unlike traditional violence, cyberweapons are indirect and turn their targets into a weapon. Terrorists aim to destroy confidence in government and society by using violence, while governments use violence to curb terrorism, control crime or enforce the law. The book highlights philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ statement, “Covenants, without the sword, are but words,” suggesting that violence is an essential tool of governance. The author also argues that cyberwar has not yet generated the fear that high-intensity bombing does. Nonetheless, the use of cyberweapons to impair functioning and inflict harm is a growing concern, and the book provides insight on the dangers and ethical implications of cyberweapons. The Israeli attack on the Syrian radar station demonstrates how cyberweapons can be effectively employed to slow down a country’s nuclear program.

Cyberweapons in the Modern World

In the realm of cyberwar, the idea of cyberweapons is significant. Unlike typical weapons, cyberweapons are designed to impair or destroy structures, organizations or people. According to the book, the “Stuxnet” worm was possibly created by US and Israeli experts to stunt Iran’s nuclear program. Cyberweapons exist across a wide spectrum, from generic malware to viruses that can breach even the most protected computer systems. It’s essential to distinguish between cybertools that are weapons and those that aren’t. If something is a weapon, governments can make its possession illegal.

Sabotage in the Digital Age

Sabotage attacks have transitioned from violent to bloodless with the evolving technology. The only distinction that makes sabotage qualify as an act of war is its potential violence. Cyberattacks are aimed at disabling software and business processes, but the focus could also shift towards damaging hardware and industrial machinery. Industrial control systems that manage physical processes in power plants, refineries, and water plants are becoming increasingly vulnerable due to the standardization of communication protocols and greater connection to the internet. With a higher possibility of successful cyber attacks causing greater harm, organizations should find and plug cyber weak spots, and manufacturers should improve their system security. Insiders who have always been the most effective saboteurs could pose a potential threat to industrial control systems. Therefore, security measures should account for internal as well as external threats.

Intelligence Agencies and the Evolution of Espionage

The internet’s expansion has led to a huge volume of data growth, most of which is unclassified. While cybercriminals engage in industrial espionage to steal confidential information, spies usually target organizations and a state, considering how political and economic espionage usually happen together. Although cyberattacks are on the rise, agencies must focus on human intelligence as opposed to mechanical intelligence to understand and act upon masses of information. Moreover, sabotage’s impact is often limited to tactical actions. Intelligence agencies must make their operations more transparent, collaborative and protect both public and private entities to confront online espionage. Anscombe’s philosopher Michael Polanyi’s said that “tacit knowledge” is derived from experience and therefore hard to articulate. Agencies must take advantage of this idea by targeting experienced field agents as opposed to focusing mainly on technology. Ultimately, agencies must shift their focus from the notion of “cyber espionage” to “espionage” and focus on strengthening their human intelligence capabilities.

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