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The Cyber War Threat Has Been Grossly Exaggerated

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  • Bruce Schneier on the Cyber War Threat

    Clip: Bruce Schneier argues for the motion "The Cyber War Threat Has Been Grossly Exaggerated."

  • Jonthan Zittrain on the Cyber War Threat

    Clip: Jonathan Zittrain argues against the motion "The Cyber War Threat Has Been Grossly Exaggerated."

  • Marc Rotenberg on the Cyber War Threat

    Clip: Marc Rotenberg argues for the motion "The Cyber War Threat Has Been Grossly Exaggerated."

  • Mike McConnel on the Cyber War Threat

    Clip: Mike McConnel argues against the motion "The Cyber War Threat Has Been Grossly Exaggerated."

Debate Details

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?

The Debaters

For the motion

Matthew Rotenberg

Executive Director, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

Is executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in Washington, DC. He teaches information privacy law at Georgetown University... Read More

Bruce Schneier

Author, 'Beyond Fear', 'Secrets and Lies'.

Is an internationally renowned security technologist, referred to by the Economist as a "security guru." He is the author of nine books – including... Read More

Against the motion

Mike McConnell

Executive Vice President, 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... Read More

Jonathan Zittrain

Professor, Harvard Law & Co-Founder, Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Jonathan Zittrain is the George Bemis Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the Kennedy School of Government, co-founder and faculty director... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • It is highly unlikely that any party would engage in a large-scale cyber attack on the United States unless they were also prepared to engage in the conventional warfare that would undoubtedly follow.
  • Nations are unlikely to attack a civilian computer infrastructure, even if it is vulnerable, because targeting civilians constitutes a war crime, and would likely lead to international retribution.
  • Though the threat of cyber war can be mitigated through diplomacy, international agreements, and improved national security technology, cyber war is used as propaganda to justify Washington’s control over, and regulation, of the Internet. 
Against The Motion
  • Cyber attack simulations have shown that America would be crippled by a cyber attack; not only is its critical infrastructure extremely vulnerable, but the government is also unprepared to respond to an attack.
  • Militaries must be prepared to address enemy offensives on all fronts, particularly given the devastating effects cyber attacks would have on individual nations and the global economy.  
  • While non-state actors currently lack the capability to carry out massive cyber attacks, over time they will likely gain that capability and may be contracted by governments to attack hostile nations without formal declarations of war.

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The Research

The Research

Battling the Cyber Warmongers

Evgeny Morozov
May 8, 2010

Technology Quarterly-Cyber Warfare: Marching Off to Cyber war

December 6, 2008

Cyber Warfare: A Glossary of Useful Terms

Stratfor Global Intelligence March 1
March 1, 2016
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