Tuesday, March 24, 2015

cyber offense

Although the American military are grouped in a Department of Defense, what they care most about is offense. After World War II, each service sought  missions using nuclear weapons to attack whatever enemies we faced. Defensive systems like the ABM [anti-ballsitic missile] were tolerated as something for technologists to play with, but the real action remained in offensive/attack systems. When capabilities were compared with other nations, only the total numbers of bombers and missiles and submarines were counted, rather than comparing effectiveness of one country's offensive bombers or missiles against another's defensive systems. The same logic applied to tanks and anti-tank weapons: what mattered was the tank total.

While some officers argued that deterrence of nuclear war required superior numbers of offensive weapons, the ultimately prevailing view was that what mattered most was a secure retaliatory capability. That's what America built and what we still have.

We seem to be slipping into the discredited offensive mindset with regard to cyber weapons. What we need most, of course, is defenses against cyber attacks, and ways of identifying and quickly recovering from whatever attacks might be launched. And we need those defenses for our armed forces and our civilian economy and infrastructure.

But what the new cyber warriors want most is offensive capability, according to recent remarks by senior officials and their congressional supporters. No wonder, with at least 21 federal organizations having some kind of cyber mission, each seeking money for their programs. As P.W. Singer and Allan Friedman noted more than a year ago, there is a cult of the cyber offensive.
This belief in the inherent superiority of cyberoffense has helped drive increased spending on offensive capabilities by militaries around the world, with the U.S. military spending, depending on the measure, 2.5 to 4 times as much on cyberoffense research and development as cyberdefense research.

Of course the United States should have offensive cyber capabilities. But this imbalance against defense is wasteful and worrisome.

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