The Cyber War Threat Has Been Grossly Exaggerated

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Cyber War

June 8, 2010

It could be the greatest strategic irony of the last twenty years: the American lead in digital technologies – upon which our financial, communications and defense systems are built, and on which they depend – may also represent a serious American Achilles heel. The sophistication of our mobile phone networks, of the GPS system that guides air traffic, even of the networked command-and-control that drives our power grids, may be without rival. But it also provides one great big and sprawling target to enemies determined to discover the choke points that can cripple us in a time of war. At least that’s the scenario as described in various, and increasingly alarmed media accounts, especially in the wake of incidents like the hacking of Google last year, by digital assailants often described (without clear confirmation) as being based in China. It’s indeed alarming, to contemplate fighting the next war with both hands tied behind our backs because a canny enemy figured out how to shut us down electronically. Alarming – but possibly, also, alarmist? Can we really be that vulnerable? Is our digital undergirding really that exposed, especially given that the Internet itself – the foundation of all this critical connectedness – was itself initially developed as a military undertaking? Even if our enemies – state enemies or terrorists – manage to cause damage in one corner of American cyberspace, don’t we have enough redundancy built in to protect us? As one technology writer has put it, this is one of those topics where the internet press likes to get worked up into a lot of “heavy breathing.” So which is it? Are we at existential risk in the event of a well coordinated cyber attack, and if so, are we taking measures to protect ourselves? Or will the first cyber war be a war we are already positioned not only to survive, but to win?

  • For the motion

    For

    Matthew Rotenberg

    Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center

  • For the motion

    For

    Bruce Schneier

    Internationally Renowned Security Technologist

  • Against the Motion

    Against

    Jonathan Zittrain

    Professor of Law at Harvard Law School

  • Against the motion

    Against

    Mike McConnell

    Executive Vice President of the National Security Business for Booz Allen Hamilton

  • Moderator Image

    Moderator

    John Donvan

    Author and correspondent for ABC News.

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Rotenberg

For The Motion

Marc Rotenberg

Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center

is executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in Washington, DC. He teaches information privacy law at Georgetown University Law Center and has testified before Congress on many issues, including access to information, encryption policy, consumer protection, computer security, and communications privacy.

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Bruce Schneier

For The Motion

Bruce Schneier

Internationally Renowned Security Technologist

is an internationally renowned security technologist, referred to by the Economist as a "security guru." He is the author of nine books – including the best sellers Beyond Fear, Secrets and Lies, and Applied Cryptography – as well as hundreds of articles and essays, and many more academic papers.

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McConnell

Against The Motion

Mike McConnell

Executive Vice President of the National Security Business for Booz Allen Hamilton

is executive vice president and leader of the National Security Business for Booz Allen Hamilton and is a member of the firm’s Leadership Team. Admiral McConnell previously served from 2007-2009 as U.S. Director of National Intelligence (DNI), a position of Cabinet rank under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

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Zittrain

Against The Motion

Jonathan Zittrain

Professor of Law at Harvard Law School

is professor of law at Harvard Law School, where he co-founded its Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Internet Society. Previously he was professor of internet governance and regulation at Oxford University. He performed the first large-scale tests of Internet filtering in China and Saudi Arabia in 2002.

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Declared Winner: Against The Motion

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