'Legitimate' cyberwar to make culture wars uglier

Hacktivism is only a start; cyberwar may be as big a part of domestic politics as dirty tricks

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The New York Times story this morning in which U.S. officials admitted having carried on a campaign of espionage and sabotage against Iran using the Stuxnet, Duqu and other malware is a victory for investigative journalism.

Writer David Sanger, from whose upcoming book the story was taken, spent 18 months interviewing officials in the U.S., Israel and various European countries to confirm who built, launched and controlled the Stuxnet, Duqu and (probably) Flame malware that have damaged or stolen secrets from Iran for as long as five years.

That the U.S. has the ability to play such an aggressive role is a victory for geeks, nerds and spies over the Pentagon's repeated, ham-handed efforts to address cyberwarfare mainly by redefining it and re-assigning it to someone else.

That the effort actually worked – significantly slowing Iran's uranium enrichment via Stuxnet, then stealing secret data for years via Duqu and, probably, Flame – is a victory for U.S. intelligence in general, which has been deservedly vilified for a series of missed cues and blunders usually laid at the feet of the CIA ( missing or misinterpreting evidence of the upcoming 9/11 terrorist attacks, weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, misunderestimating the potential for long-term insurgency from the defeated Iraqi military, not knowing North Korea was building a nuclear reactor for Syria, missing the Iran/Venezuelan cyberplot to attack U.S. nuclear facilities, not to mention 10 years of trying to locate Osama Bin Laden and failing).

Cyberwar is less bloody, not less messy

That's not to say the NSA, cyberwar or cyberespionage will be any more effective or, in the long run, any more accurate in helping shape U.S. foreign policy than good old-fashioned human intelligence and political analysis.

They are likely – almost certain – to become the go-to solution to a whole range of problems prudence dictates should not be solved with air strikes or visits from teams of SEALs.

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