None of this is meant to imply that cyberspace is safe. Threats of all sorts fill cyberspace, but not threats of war. As such, the policies to defend against them are different. While hackers and criminal threats get all the headlines, more worrisome are the threats from governments seeking to consolidate their power. I have long argued that controlling the internet has become critical for totalitarian states, and their four broad tools of surveillance, censorship, propaganda and use control have legitimate commercial applications, and are also employed by democracies.
A lot of the problem here is of definition. There isn’t broad agreement as to what constitutes cyber war, and this confusion plays into the hands of those hyping its threat. If everything from Chinese espionage to Russian criminal extortion to activist disruption falls under the cyber war umbrella, then it only makes sense to put more of the internet under government – and thus military – control. Rid’s book is a compelling counter-argument to this approach.
Rid’s final chapter is an essay unto itself, and lays out his vision as to how we should deal with threats in cyberspace. For policymakers who won’t sit through an entire book, this is the chapter I would urge them to read. Arms races are dangerous and destabilising, and we’re in the early years of a cyber war arms race that’s being fuelled by fear and ignorance. This book is a cogent counterpoint to the doomsayers and the profiteers, and should be required reading for anyone concerned about security in cyberspace.