There’s an easy way to justify throwing money at cyber weapons and allowing government surveillance over the entire Internet: China.
The Pentagon pointed the finger at the Chinese in terms of cyber espionage and cyber-military threat for the first time on Tuesday.
Though certainly China represents a threat, one expert thinks there are ulterior motives involved in calling out China so publically.
“Having an identified enemy enables one to justify more easily policies that aim at, for example, developing offensive cyber capabilities or restricting freedoms in cyberspace,” Jarno Limnell, the director of cyber security for Stonesoft— a company recently purchased by McAfee — said via email.
There have been various official, highly contested attempts to pass legislation that would give government and private entities the power to openly surveil U.S. citizens (and anyone, for that matter) over the web. The Pentagon has also been subjected to $50 billion dollars worth of yearly cuts over the next 10 years.
It might seem pretty hard to justify upping your geek squad at the sacrifice of more conventional forces but that’s exactly what the Pentagon intends to do.
Limnell agrees in part and pushes a few theories when it comes to weaponization of cyber space: that the weapons need to be demonstrated, that cyber security structures need to be “resilient,” etc.
Though he says cyber weapons are inevitable, he also says the threats vary and that reducing it to China is a dangerous gamble.
“Concentrating on one self-constructed “arch” enemy restricts one’s vision in the emerging world of global cyber politics. Threats are manifold and extend far beyond rival nation states, so it is imperative to take a 360 degree view of the landscape,” wrote Jarno.
China does offer America a tangible enemy, unlike the amorphous and fractured world of hackers, hacking and hacktivism. Generally, the targets of hacktivism — oppressive governments, big banking — are those with whom the general public doesn’t easily identify.
On the other hand, quotes like this might get everyone’s attention: “God forbid we get into a conflict with China but if we did we could face a major embarrassment, where we try out all these sophisticated weapons systems and they don’t work,” Richard Clarke, former special adviser to President George W. Bush on cybersecurity, told Bloomberg.
The sophisticated weapons systems might not work, of course, because China allegedly stole all the plans and specs from U.S. defence companies.
Jarno’s quotes are not unlike those of Rand’s Dr. Bruce Bennett about a nuclear arms race in Asia-Pacific theatre. In order to justify spending on such expensive programs during a time of austerity, and restrict privacy in a time of rising paranoia, governments need a boogie man.
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