Six Lines

Cyberwar Rhetoric

Posted by Aaron Massey on 21 Jul 2010.

I find it somewhat amusing just how disparate the reported views of our national security are in the mainstream press. Here’s the byline of WaPo’s Top Secrect America project:

The government has built a national security and intelligence system so big, so complex and so hard to manage, no one really knows if it’s fulfilling its most important purpose: keeping its citizens safe.

And here’s an NPR story that was released on the same day:

There may be no country on the planet more vulnerable to a massive cyberattack than the United States, where financial, transportation, telecommunications and even military operations are now deeply dependent on data networking.

What’s worse: U.S. security officials say the country’s cyberdefenses are not up to the challenge. In part, it’s due to a severe shortage of computer security specialists and engineers with the skills and knowledge necessary to do battle against would-be adversaries. The protection of U.S. computer systems essentially requires an army of cyberwarriors, but the recruitment of that force is suffering.

Which is it? Do we have ponderously many “cyberwarriors” or are we experiencing some apocalyptic shortage? Ok, I’m not being entirely fair. I’m skipping over the fact that the WaPo article wasn’t just about “cyber” defenses (though that is a part of their analysis). Still, how can these stories possibly be reconciled when their core theses are so far apart?

Fear-based rhetoric continues to drown out reason in the collective discussion on national security. It seems that we must either be terrified because we have too many people protecting us for anyone to effectively manage them or because we have so few people working to defend us (and so few people qualified to defend us) that we’re critically vulnerable. Either way, we must be terrified. How does that help?

Disclosure: I am working as a 2010 summer intern for one of the organizations mentioned in the WaPo article.