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Cybercom – Militarising Your Cyberspace?

25/06/2009

On Tuesday 24 June SecDef Gates announced the formation of Cybercom, the new US military command with responsibility for tracking and combating cyberthreats.  It’s not the first time that DoD has attempted to set up something similar: USAF’s Cyber Command has been around for a while, for example, and was accompanied by a rather alarming statement from USAF Col.Charles W. Williamson III, in which he advocated carpet-bombing cyberspace as a form of deterrence.

Bizarre, and all a bit General Ripper-like for my liking.

Over at Complex Terrain Lab, Eric Randolph wonders if the new command, with its military derivation, will impact on civilian cyberspace also. This is a valid concern. DARPA, for example – the Tefal-head boffins who brought us the internet back in the 1960s – have advanced plans for a ‘cyber range’; this would be a huge server farm on which massive red team exercises can be played out.

I wrote elsewhere in January about how even the language used to describe this exercise was, again, a bit Cold War. Not only that but how can a closed system like a ‘cyber range’ – the language analogous to artillery ranges, etc – effectively model a more open system like t’internet?

Now, I’m not saying that DARPA, or whoever, can’t learn from such an exercise – they can, and they will. The problem is that, even though the Pentagon can say of the new Cybercom that ‘this is not about the militarization of cyber’, it is almost a given that military activities will have to extend beyond just the military network in order to learn about the threats and attacks launched against it.

The very concept of intrusion, for example, implies that an intruder comes from outside. To deal with the attacker effectively you must therefore pursue him, unless of course you are merely following a defensive strategy. If you follow him you will be in civilian cyberspace, outside the military networks Cybercom is apparently set up to protect.

The defensive/offensive dilemma is at the heart of nascent cyber-strategy. There are legal, ethical, and rights considerations that have yet to be fully thought through, let alone tested in courts. Surveillance techniques such as wire-tapping, CCTV and the like are heavily regulated in many countries, not least in the US.

I’m as hooked on The Wire as the next infowallah but even they have to jump through some legal and constitutional hoops to eavesdrop Cheese‘s cellphone. Imagine what happens when you try and extend your cyber activities beyond the Baltimore city limits, out o’er the ramparts and into the gallantly streaming ‘lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind‘…

[Apologies to William Gibson and Francis Scott Key – and perhaps the entire American people – for the last line.]