Grass Mud Horse
The Strait Talk Symposium’s second lecture event focused on international cybersecurity issues with a focus on China-Taiwan-US interactions. Amidst the possibilities of war, deceit, and chaos were also the seeds of collaboration and partnership. Today’s panel included Brown University’s Dr. John Savage from the computer science department, Dr. Paul Bolt of the United States Air Force Academy, and Timothy Peacock from the Brookings Institute.
Despite the nebulous concept of what exactly cyberspace means, it has a direct impact on nearly every facet of our daily lives. Whether the extension of cyberspace is what allows us on social networks or the vital systems that power our education, health care, and infrastructure grids, cyberspace has made the distances in the world seem greatly diminished while enhancing our quality of life. Perhaps slightly more pertinent to international relations are the intelligence and military networks that also rely on cyberspace. To this end, cybersecurity has become a massive new field with myriad perspectives to take, as evidenced by the varying angles the speakers of today’s panel chose to take. But in the end, our speakers all realized the immediacy of potential problems and the fact that there is no recourse to easy answers.
Dr. Bolt started the panel by discussing the wide span of military and geopolitical implications behind cybersecurity issues. He raised the point that beyond direct attacks on economies and the military, cyber attacks could be used to create information and misinformation to shape international perceptions. Dr. Bolt cited the seminal 1999 work by Chinese military officials, “Unrestricted Warfare” to illustrate China’s recognition that cyber attacks could be used as an asymmetric tool to balance out advantages in logistics and command that American forces might have. Ambiguity and unpredictability certainly were the key words behind this section of the panel.
Dr. Savage began his section focused more on research that zeroed in on American vulnerability to cyber attack, even domestically, and the general lack of a response to the growing problem. 2010 witnessed nearly 1 million victims of cyber crime and a total of a $338 billion loss in the United States. Cybersecurity is a huge long term problem that could reduce the nation’s competitive edge in many ways. Thinking about war and its consequences Dr. Savage discussed American electrical generators and the possibility of a total shutdown if they witnessed an attack. Coupled with the fact that electrical generators are often manufactured in China, Dr. Savage drove home the point that the United States is highly dependent on other nations. If anything, nations need to cooperate on points of cybersecurity to ensure global growth and stability.
Finally, Timothy Peacock brought forth a new perspective to the table by discussing the definitions and cultural ramifications of privacy. In computer science, privacy means a piece of information that may only be accessed by one piece of software. In the real world, this does not hold true. Peacock pointed out that privacy is often brought up as a highly Western term. On the other end of the spectrum, China often sees its own security in terms of whether it can control information flow. Peacock then brought up how American corporations might deal with Chinese privacy impositions, either risking its future competitive edge or giving up what is often considered private data. In any case, the battle surrounding privacy must deal with multiple dynamics: corporations and states, corporations to citizens, citizens to citizens, and states to citizens.
To summarize, cybersecurity is a wide-ranging issue with multiple perspectives to take. Future measures will need to take a holistic look at what is turning out to be an overwhelmingly important issue, one that is often overlooked. The panelists were optimistic of future cooperation in the field of cybersecurity, but were also wary of the nearly Cold War-esque feeling engendered by the anonymous and dangerous background world of cyberspace security.