BALTIMORE, MD (August 19, 2014) — Peter W. Singer, Strategist at the New America Foundation, spoke in Baltimore today. He discussed the ways in which people understand (and misunderstand) the realities of cyberspace, especially when cyberspace becomes a field of conflict.
Singer noted that cybersecurity remains, curiously, a domain in which senior leaders can remain surprisingly ill-informed, and in need of a useful framework within which to understand cybersecurity. In spite of much proposed legislation, since 2007 no substantive cybersecurity law has passed Congress. As central as cyber technologies have become to commerce, communications, and daily life, as pervasive as networked devices are, we still find ourselves in the grip of misleading metaphors when we devise cybersecurity policies and practices.
Consider the often-discussed "digital Pearl Harbor," as in, "hackers could bring down the electrical grid in a digital Pearl Harbor." This suggests an active, retaliatory defense to a devastating attack. But, Singer observed, over just four months in 2013 squirrels caused at least fifty power outages. Hackers have so far never caused one. We manage to shrug off the squirrels, yet hacking inspires fear, uncertainty, and dread (and defenses poorly adapted to the real threat).
Singer summed up by noting the things that matter in cybersecurity: knowledge (we need to de-mystify the cyber domain), people (because they are at the heart of all cyber issues, and the source of their complexity), incentives (which shape the motivations and cost-balance decisions in cyberspace), crowds (since cybersecurity doesn't lend itself to top-down solutions), and states (especially the United States and China, whose often divergent visions of cybersecurity will continue to shape international relations).
He concluded by advising resilience, not perfect security, as our goal. We should work toward ensuring our ability to do those things that our current (and future) ways of life expect us to be able to do in cyberspace.
Peter Warren Singer, formerly a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution—the youngest Senior Fellow in Brookings' 98-year history—is currently a Strategist at the New America Foundation. He works at the intersection of technological innovation, robotics, creativity, conflict studies, ethics, law, and politics. Dr. Singer has advised groups from the Pentagon to Hollywood on how technology and warfare are changing one another in the 21st Century. His latest book, Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Allan Friedman) aims to educate both experts and ordinary citizens about conflict in cyberspace, providing an easy-to-read guide through the central questions our young century's new battlespace raises. Singer received his Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University and a BA from the Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.