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How Nations Fight, Trade, Maneuver, and Manipulate in the Digital Age

by Adam Segal

Pub Date: Feb. 23rd, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-61039-415-4
Publisher: PublicAffairs

The director of the Council of Foreign Relations’ cyberspace policy program warns that the days of the open Internet may be closing as the medium becomes increasingly lawless.

The world’s nations have explored ways to leverage cyberspace since before there even was a cyberspace, but, as Segal (Advantage: How American Innovation Can Overcome the Asian Challenge, 2010, etc.) writes, the period from June 2012 to June 2013 might well be reckoned Year Zero in the battle to control cyberspace. In that period, those nation-states “visibly reasserted their control over the flow of data and information in search of power, wealth, and influence”—abandoning, in short, any utopian idea of the Internet as a vehicle to make the world a more prosperous place. More to the point, that time also saw the quickening of digital warfare against Iran, and specifically its nuclear program, with the development of the Stuxnet worm, one of whose stated aims was to “mess with Iran’s best scientific minds” and “make them feel like they were stupid.” A concurrent development was the reshaping of the old divisions between the public and private spheres. Although e-commerce is a private matter by near definition, it’s protected by the state, while the private sector controls the communication networks over which most Internet traffic passes, government communications included. In dry but precise prose, Segal examines numerous instances of cyberwar, some of which may come as news to readers—e.g., the digital skirmish fought between Russia and Estonia over a military memorial in 2007 and the sophisticated social media campaigns carried out by the Islamic State, blending “brutality and barbarism” with the most up-to-date software. The author also worries about the prospect of a fragmented, contested Internet beset by endless hacker attacks from Russia and China and that will be markedly less free than the one we are accustomed to.

Netizens and white-hat programmers will be familiar with Segal’s arguments, but most policymakers will not—and they deserve wide discussion.