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    by Robert C. Orr
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    by John Robb
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    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
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    State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century
    by Francis Fukuyama
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    When States Fail: Causes and Consequences
    Princeton University Press
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    Building States to Build Peace
    Lynne Rienner Publishers
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    Making States Work: State Failure And The Crisis Of Governance
    United Nations University Press
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Entries in Bipartisan Policy Center (2)

Wednesday
Feb242010

More on Cyber ShockWave

Last week I wrote about the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Cyber ShockWave project that imagined a situation in which a foreign country or criminal syndicate attacked critical U.S. infrastructure through the internet.  The event, which was filmed on CNN, is now available on YouTube . . .

 

 


For a synopsis of what went down, you can read this Washington Post article.  Long story short: the U.S. is not capable of preventing such an attack and senior government leaders haven’t thought through how to adequately respond to one.

 

On a similar note, James Fallows in the March issue of The Atlantic pens an article on the Chinese cyber threat.  Fallows is one of the best writers around when it comes to issues of national security and his articles in the run up to the Iraq war and its aftermath constitute some of the sharpest and most prescient commentary available on the subject.  He even wrote the introduction to John Robb’s groundbreaking book Brave New War.  Robb is the seminal thinker whose concept of systempunkt foresees the use of cyber war as strategy in which attacks against infrastructure and financial systems create cascading effects that potentially lead to the destabilization of society.  I did a post on it here.  It’s likely the designers of the exercise drew on Robb’s work in developing the Cyber ShockWave scenario. 

 

Fallows argues the Chinese military recognizes that at its current stage of development it can’t go toe to toe with the U.S. military and that the Chinese government is more concerned about creating jobs and keeping its economy growing than it is in preparing for or getting involved in a conventional fight with the United States.  What the Chinese are preparing for, however, are ways to fight asymmetrically via the internet, and in addition to attacking infrastructure and collapsing financial networks, Fallows envisions a doomsday scenario in which hackers can erase all the knowledge and information stored on U.S. based servers and databases.  If this occurs, it’s difficult to imagine how we recover.  Fallows doesn’t provide any answers.  But John Robb does.   



Tuesday
Feb162010

Cyber War and the ShockWave Project

My very first post here at D3 discussed this 60 minutes piece on the ability of foreign governments or non-state actors such as terrorists, hackers or parasitical criminal syndicates to use the web to engage in systempunkt, the tactic of destroying key infrastructure or communication nodes (usually centralized to capitalize on economies of scale) in order to create larger societal disruptions. 

 

Taking off line the power plants supporting a large city, for instance, has a cascading effect that impacts downstream government and business functions creating turmoil in the provision of essential public services and the economy, not to mention destabilizing the lives of individuals and their families. 

 

Without power, the water supply available to densely populated urban areas will eventually shut off and supermarkets relying on complex internet software and just-in-time inventory delivery may soon end up empty.  Sure, such items can be trucked in, but in such quantities so as to satisfy demand?  Without street lighting at night and degraded police force capabilities, criminals are more likely to come out and wreak havoc.  The list of negative possibilities is endless and the result may be a breakdown in law and order or mass population movement outside the affected area.

 

The groundbreaking work on systempunkt (a riff off the Blitzkrieg concept of schwerpunkt) was done by theorist John Robb whose blog Global Guerillas and book Brave New War are the key texts when discussing these issues.

 

So why do I mention them?

 

Because today the Bipartisan Policy Center is conducting an exercise called Cyber ShockWave that is essentially a war game for the sort of scenario described above.  The event will convene former senior government officials playing the role of cabinet members as a massive cyber attack occurs against critical infrastructure in the United States.  

 

According to the BPC,

 

“The participants, whose mission is to advise the president and mount a response to the attack, will not know the scenario in advance. They will react to the threat in real time, as intelligence and news reports drive the simulation, shedding light on how the difficult split-second decisions must be made to respond to an unfolding and often unseen threat.”

 

To make it as realistic as possible, a production company has built a duplicate of the White House Situation Room and used professional scriptwriters to help security experts design the exercise.  CNN is filming it for broadcast later in the week and once the war game is finished participants will engage in an after action review open to questions from the media and public.  I’m looking forward to seeing the results.

 

However, my guess is that if a massive cyber attack on American infrastructure occurs, the government response will largely be ineffective.  Bureaucratic inertia, failure to plan or resource on a large scale, and good ole incompetence will make the official action more or less meaningless for everyone but the very few (especially in the short-term).  What will matter are how individuals prepare themselves and their attitude in adjusting to the new reality until systems come back online.  Yet there is one thing the government and individuals can do to minimize the impact of such widespread disruptions, and it isn’t building a more complex firewall. 

 

In short, it’s about building resilient communities able to weather the shocks that will likely in occur in the new world we’re living in.  One model is transition towns.

 

More on community resiliency is available here.