Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cyber Privateers

John Arquilla, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, has been thinking about the implications of the Internet on national security for some time. He is perhaps best known for advocating the military strategy of “Netwar” against terrorist groups, which he says can be waged in cyberspace and on real-world battlefields.

At the core of the “Netwar” concept lies the oft-cited idea that “it takes a network to fight a network.” In other words: The U.S. military should adopt some of the characteristics of what Arquilla calls “dark networks,” particularly with respect to organization, and beat al Qaeda et al on their own turf.

In a new report sponsored by the Pentagon, Arquilla lays out a few recommendations for how defense officials should wage “Netwar” in the virtual domain.

One idea is for the government to mobilize “cyber militias,” he writes.

This action would consist perhaps of setting up Web sites from which interested “netizens” could download search and other sorts of tools that they could then employ against targets that had been illuminated by the cyber command. This could be done by either overt or covert means and, given the usual sensitivities of senior American political leaders, would take a very steely resolve to pursue as a viable option.

A variant of this approach could be to recruit a smaller number of “master hackers” who would use their skills to track the activities of terrorists in cyberspace, Arquilla writes.

The basic design of this strategy would be very much like earlier efforts in history to use privateers to strike enemies at sea, sometimes even to hit them from the sea, as Queen Elizabeth I had Sir Francis Drake and other “sea dogs” do in the 16th century. The institutional basis of this approach is the “letter of marque” providing authorization for such action and distinguishing it from common piracy.

Arquilla also would like to see an intelligence and technology hub emerge akin to the World War II “Bletchley Park” in England. Analysts at ueber-secret facility developed code-breaking capabilities for the Allies that led to a series of decisive wins over Nazi Germany.

Meanwhile, defense officials continue to wrestle with some fundamental questions relating to war in cyberspace. For example, the question of how to practice deterrence in the virtual domain has been simmering in defense circles for some time. We had the chance to ask Rear Adm. Dan Davenport of U.S. Joint Forces Command recently whether a key command-sponsored war game staged in early summer brought participants any closer to an answer.

“Not really,” he replied.

-- Sebastian Sprenger

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