THE PERFECT WEAPON: War; Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age.

AuthorSmith, Anthony
PositionBook review

THE PERFECT WEAPON: War; Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age

Author. David E. Sanger

Published by: Scribe Publications, Melbourne, 2018, 357pp, $32.99.

In 2015 the US Defense establishment ran a 'Hack the Pentagon Challenge'. It was won (inevitably) by an 18-year-old student who had to be driven to the Pentagon by his mother to pick up the prize. The strategic rivalry in cyber space might be considered the realm of digital natives (namely, millennials) but older policymakers, as well as the general public, need to recognise how the cyber age is altering our world. And those who are trained in its policy, operational and/or technical aspects will find they have considerable job prospects. In fact, government agencies are fighting with the private sector for cyber experts, and are generally struggling to hold their best. For the rest of the lay public, this very accessible book by New York Times journalist David Sanger is an outstanding volume to fill in the gaps.

The problem of cyber security has emerged with surprising speed. Even by the late 2000s it was not being given prominence in US threat assessments. And with the high-profile cyber intrusions that have occurred since, Sanger points out that no-one seems to know how to compare them to the terrestrial world. Are cyber-attacks more like crimes? Or are they more like terrorism? Prominent officials have used both analogies, sometimes for similar incidents. The human mind, more focused on tangible risks to life and limb, is going to focus more on violent events than on cyber-crimes. But the damage extends from low scale espionage at one end all the way through to undermining electoral processes at the other. During the Sony Pictures hack of 2014, a response to Sony's release of the film The Interview (a screwball comedy involving an assassination plot on the North Korean leader), the media focused a great deal on gossipy emails about particular actors and directors. The incident took a more serious turn for the United States, however, when hackers additionally threatened unspecified violent attacks on cinemas as the theatrical release neared. Sanger notes that this event also took US officials by surprise, as it was not hitherto realised how much capability North Korea had in the realm of cyberspace. Generally speaking, offensive and defensive cyber capabilities are now a level playing field for a number of active players, with more sophisticated economies arguably having more to lose.


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