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The Cyber Defense Review


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Writing the Private Sector Back into the Defense Equation - Unlearned Lessons

December 22, 2021 — Global supply chains received a one-two punch in 2020. The ongoing US-China trade war and COVID-19 made it clear that the increasingly complex, fragile, and opaque global supply chains were no longer sustainable. These significant shocks, coupled with the SolarWinds supply chain compromise and growing concerns over data security and digital supply chain risk, have caused many in the private sector to rethink their global footprint. These global transformations also create a rare opportunity to rethink the role of the private sector in national security. MORE

What Corrodes Cyber, Infects its Offspring: Unlearned Lessons for Emerging Technologies

December 22, 2021 — What infects the cyberspace societal substrate also infects its technological offspring. Whatever relies on the current shoddy, insecure cyberspace substrate inherits its vulnerabilities. This great silent unlearned lesson among technologists, promoters, government officials, and ignorant or optimistic users seems self-evident and yet is repeatedly unlearned. It would seem self-evident that, unless the underlying substrate is transformed to be securable, any new technology built on those insecure cyber foundations will, in turn, fall prey to the same assaults. That adversary and criminal campaigns to poison data, corrupt algorithms, and 'p0wn' development processes are fairly predictable is logically obvious for AI systems as well as quantum, robotics, autonomous systems, synthetic biology, and any other emerging technologies. They all rely on the highly corruptible, existing cyberspace substrate and inherit its attack surfaces in addition to new ones of their own. MORE

Extracting Unlearned Lessons from Past Poor Choices lest They be Learned the Hard Way in the Future

December 22, 2021 — Unlearned lessons are those insights missed from a past situation. When we do not learn from experiences, we continue to make the same decisions in similar situations. In the case of the United States, unlearned lessons undermine the future security and prosperity of democracies. The results of unlearned lessons can be the individual’s free choice, but others, including some facing us now, heavily burden the future with the collective history of other prior choices. More volatile times face open societies globally. As Nassim Taleb observes, when the tails of a probability distribution get fatter, the predictable becomes a function of the distribution's extreme values and only those extreme values. In multiple publications, Taleb argues that the world is "undergoing a switch between continuous low-grade volatility to a process moving by jumps, with less and less variations outside of jumps." The faster the rate of systems change, the heavier become those tails, due mostly to the growth of unrecognized interdependence between the moving parts. In the statistical analysis of systems, if one is uncertain about the tails of the data, then one is uncertain about the mean as well. Yet, the faster the rate of systems change, the heavier become those tails, due mostly to the growth of unrecognized interdependence between the moving parts, and thus the less useful for learning are their means. Such a situation requires the prudent person to plan for maximal damage scenarios, not for most probable scenarios, and to ensure that the choices they make along the way offer reasonable and secure alternatives when the worst scenarios emerge. MORE

Four Questions Indicating Unlearned Lessons Concerning Future Military Digital Systems and Fleet Design

December 22, 2021 — The US military knows well that it is fully engaged in ongoing 'peacetime' cybered conflict against state and nonstate actors intending to harm the US and its allies and partners.[1] This enduring conflict is driven by various motives and takes myriad forms, ranging from ransomware attacks and theft of technical intellectual property to what is, in effect, cyber privateering and piracy. Various issues afflict the cyberspace substrate and extend deep into the socio-technical-economic system (STES) of modern Western democracies. Given the grievous damage that could be done, these vulnerabilities—many self-inflicted—are astounding. Yet, to some extent, the US military (and perhaps its allies as well) perceives its forces and systems to be partially immune (at least internally) from these 'civilian' vulnerabilities since it has 'secure' communications, networks kept apart from the public internet, and air gaps between weapons systems and outside digital threats. But is this accurate? MORE

Content as Infrastructure: The Unlearned Lesson about Cyber Security and Information Integrity

December 22, 2021 — Informational content is just beginning to be properly considered as an urgent infrastructure security concern in addition to the physical integrity and functionality of the computers and telecommunications networks that enable the transmission of such content. The 2016 and 2020 presidential elections in the United States (US) raised awareness about disinformation campaigns and greatly increased both public and private sector efforts to combat foreign influence operations. But the importance of informational content goes far beyond its potential cognitive impact on human actors, such as voters. Automated industrial control systems (ICS) and Internet of Things (IoT) devices can be adversely impacted, or even maliciously manipulated, as well. In a world of heightened reliance on artificial intelligence (AI) and/or machine learning (ML) algorithms – which require large volumes of training data – content becomes part of the infrastructure, because each datum that is processed contributes to the future functionality of the algorithm. AI/ML algorithms that are trained on or receive disinformation inputs will yield imperfect outputs. MORE

Unlearned Lessons from the First Cybered Conflict Decade – BGP Hijacks Continue

December 22, 2021 — Unlearned lessons are those where the harm, attack methods, or malicious tools are demonstrated publicly and yet neglected by those who need to respond or better plan for future attacks. By 2010, reports of network traffic hijack attacks – called here Internet Protocol (IP) or Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) hijacks – had already surfaced. Most notably publicized was the China Telecom IP hijack attack in that year where 15% of the global Internet traffic was rerouted or "hijacked" through servers in China.While the scale of this original event has been debated, there is little doubt that throughout the following decade, attacks of this kind continued. Eight years later, in 2018, we reported on China Telecom using its otherwise seemingly innocent network servers to reroute (or hijack) Internet traffic through China at its will. At the time, the company had 10 "points of presence" (PoPs, locations where a company's routing equipment is located) in North America, each strategically located and available to hijack or divert network traffic through China from North America. The 2018 paper drew significant attention to the problem by the general public (through popular media outlets), the cybersecurity and research communities, and various stakeholders in western nations' governments, and yet the lesson is still unlearned by many of the same nations currently being victimized by China Telecom illicit activity and other BGP hijacks. MORE

The Need for National Cyber Insurance - A Lesson to be Relearned

December 22, 2021 — Securing a nation’s cyber borders requires a high degree of coordination and openness among the relevant units, including real-time information sharing and threat assessment. Unfortunately, however, not only is there little incentive for private sector entities to voluntarily offer the necessary level of cooperation, but policy makers in free societies are reluctant to force such measures on them. Even more unfortunate is the fact that the threats are real, substantial, and have the capacity to have an adverse impact far beyond the initial point of incursion. This raises the question as to whether or not there exist yet-to-be learned lessons that could point us toward a means of motivating businesses and other institutions to accept what would otherwise be unwelcome intrusion and expense. MORE

Conclusion: When Experience Speaks and Too Few Listen – Curating the Unlearned Lessons

December 22, 2021 — The past decade has ushered the rise of a 'Cyber Westphalian,' increasingly conflictual world characterized by rising great power competition, which now has escalated into ‘Great Systems Conflict’[2] across all digitally dependent societal domains. These struggles are occurring for, through, and enabled by cyberspace, and are now well in evidence globally. Yet, after ten years of experiments in creating organizations, strategies, policies, and offensive campaigns, consolidated democracies have either neglected or missed some valuable lessons. The essays in this special issue provide a broad overview of what was missed, ignored, mistaken, or simply not learned despite indications and experience. They also offer a way forward to tackle some of the more complex issues discussed. The unlearned lessons identified here range over issues of strategic approach, national scale and capacity, institutional change, and the socio-technical-economic system’s framing of the cybered conflict challenge. The authors here—subject matter experts with considerable and well-recognized expertise—are concerned about what we collectively are failing to appreciate and act upon. They intend by these essays to inform future national strategies, policies, and institutions to ensure that these unlearned lessons do not turn into future strategic failures in a rising, deeply cybered, post-westernized, authoritarian world. MORE

The Cyber Defense Review: Thinking of the Future

November 15, 2021 — Since the publication of Johannes Kepler’s novel, Somnium, science fiction has played an interesting role in society. It has been used to inspire (just ask how many current astronauts point to Star Trek as their reason for their chosen profession), to inform about possibilities (driverless cars have appeared in numerous films), or to serve as a warning (pick any post-apocalyptic movie…there’s too many to list). Many of the current cyberspace challenges we face were, at one time, the stuff of science fiction. While it is possible to fixate on the negative aspects of the current and future state, the many authors in this issue offer potential solutions for our challenges. Hopefully, their perspectives and proposals will move us beyond the status quo to reach a more advantageous state. MORE

Responding to Proxy Cyber Operations Under International Law

November 15, 2021 — The United States (US), its allies, and other partners are engaged in long-term strategic competition with Russia and China—near-peer adversaries adept at operating in the grey zone of international law, where the precise contours of the law are difficult to discern. They do so to complicate our response options, in part to avoid provoking a direct military response. Increasingly, cyberspace is that grey zone, a domain in which Russia, China, and other adversaries such as Iran and North Korea mount cyber operations ranging from cyber-enabled espionage, theft, and propaganda campaigns to significantly more disruptive and destructive operations. In particular, they often leverage non-state actors—cyber proxies—to do their bidding because proxies further complicate legal and policy assessments of the operations. And those assessments determine the response options available to victim states. MORE

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