Updated: Apr 8, 2022
REVIEW — Cyberspace in Peace and War by Martin C. Libicki, delivers a comprehensive review and analysis of the threats in cyberspace as well as thought provoking and insightful discussion of cybersecurity strategy. Presented in textbook format, Libicki’s primer is a highly valuable resource, especially for national security professionals and academics.
Libicki deftly organizes the security issues related to cyberspace so that the reader naturally builds on the foundational material including history, nomenclature, and tactical details of cyber attacks. He expertly draws the important distinction between cyber espionage, which can be a precursor to a hack, and the cyber attacks, which cause disruption, corruption, and destruction.
Libicki is at his best when incorporating cybersecurity into military theory and replete with examples of criminal hacking as well as Chinese and other state actors, tactical cyber war. His well-made arguments about “taking the fight to the enemy” as in counterterrorism operations, are useful background for those debating the efficacy of “hacking back.” He offers some excellent analytic discussion of attribution including the importance of factoring in false negatives resulting in failure to punish the guilty and false positives, where the innocent is targeted.
Libicki, who understandably focuses to the greatest extent on technology and concludes the “wiser path to attaining a permanent improvement may lie in technology,” accurately describes the essence of hacking, where one failure could eliminate other avenues of attack, thereby making the target more vulnerable. But he would have done well to focus more on the human element of insider threats.
Cyber defense should indeed start with technology, including hardening defenses by reducing vulnerable attack space with secure routers and servers; firewalls and sophisticated web codes; the rigorous application of both patches and back-up protocols; and data encryption.
But cyber security also requires focusing on the “skin behind the keyboard.” Humans beat technology every time. As someone who has previously written on cybersecurity in The Cipher Brief, I would have liked for Libicki to have devoted more of his subject matter expertise to the value of a robust insider threat program, which deals with cyber threats resulting from both unwitting employees who require training to counter hackers and malicious employees with ill intent.
For a future edition, Libicki might also consider an annex, with key definitions of key terminology and a historical chronology of key events impacting cyberspace.
Libicki’s assessment of Taiwan’s potential to use cyberwar as an asymmetric tool to counter Chinese aggression is right on the mark. But his assessment of Russia needs more work. Libicki rightly shines the spotlight on Russia’s protection of cyber criminals. But Russian behavior in cyber space is not as Libicki alleges an “enigma”, with the Kremlin “still groping” for a strategy. Cognizant of cyberspace’s potential to augment military operations as well as covert action, Russia developed a hybrid warfare doctrine incorporating cyber attacks, which Russian Army Chief of Staff Valeriy Gerassimov described in the Military War Journal in 2013. Russia’s June 2017, NotPetya cyberattack amidst Russia’s ongoing undeclared war against Ukraine, was a component of this strategy, most prominently witnessed during the Kremlin’s 2008 war against Georgia, designed to strengthen control over Russia’s regional sphere of influence.
Asymmetric cyber warfare became a key foreign policy tool under the KGB operative in the Kremlin, President Vladimir Putin, who has a long history of conducting cyberattacks against the U.S. and others, to weaken an enemy’s confidence in their government and the cyber infrastructure on which their commerce and political system rely.
Expounding on the vulnerability of individual users as well as our national infrastructure especially given the dual challenges of building international norms governing cyberspace and negotiating cyber “arms control” where malware tools are hidden and easily acquired on the black market, Libicki has made a substantial contribution to the ongoing discourse on cyber security.
Book Review: Cyberspace in Peace and War (Second Edition) by Martin C. Libicki / Naval Institute Press
The Reviewer: Daniel Hoffman is a former senior officer with the Central Intelligence Agency, where he served as a three-time station chief and a senior executive Clandestine Services officer.
I award this book 3.5 out of four possible trench coats.
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