Mark Graff’s Cyber Minute
September 22, 2015
Here in the United States we are about to be favored with two different state visits. Pope Francis arrived in Washington D.C yesterday. Today, Chinese President Xi crosses our shores in Seattle . We hear that the White House is hoping to conclude some sort of “cyber non-aggression pact” with China before Mr. Xi leaves next week.
Let’s talk about the Pope first. He flew here direct from Havana, where he met with the Castro brothers. It was His Holiness, we are told, that helped negotiate the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations. I bring this up because I want you to hold the image of fifty years of failed diplomacy in your mind as we think together about cyber negotiations with the Chinese.
We are in a new cold war today, a cold cyber war with China, Russia, and Iran. And while I’m all for negotiating some decency and control into this standoff, I suggest we get a few things straight.
- Cyber non-proliferation is impossible. I spent nine years at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and saw firsthand the technical measures and other expertise that detects the movement, testing, and use of nuclear devices. I am here to tell you that, as far as cyber goes, the milk is spilt. Any two-bit country could become a cyber superpower these days, and our chances of detecting their efforts as they build up (or even prepare to launch) are zero.
- “No First Use” is out the window. Back in 2002 I advocated No First Use in contacts with senior officials at the Pentagon, and was gently informed that it was too late: we had already deployed cyber weapons. (Look it up.) Today, of course, a few years after the Stuxnet worm used against Iran, that bargaining stance is long gone. What’s left?
- “Mutual Assured Downtime” is what’s left in the toolbox. “MAD” as it is, the specter of strong, prompt, proportional-or-greater response by the U.S. to a cyber attack is the only major tool this cyber cold warrior can see that’s left to us. If “they” hit us, “they” have to know we can and will hit back harder.
Raising the cost to the cyber adversary—with weaponry, doctrine and public opinion at the ready—should be our strategy. We should make sure that the Chinese president understands that it is. (Let’s make sure Putin and the Ayotollah do, too.) With that understanding—and who knows, maybe a helping hand in the future from Pope Francis—we can hope to keep the cyber warfare genie bottled up for another generation to deal with.
Oh: do you want to apologize to the kids this time, or shall I take care of it again?