Business Executives for National Security (BENS) hosted the first of a new series of round tables today that will cover Cyber Security and Cyber War. They are planned to be two separate tracks, but after the first one, the BENS leadership is thinking of combining them.

This first meeting was a discussion with Jeffery Carr, the author of “Inside Cyber Warfare” (O’Reilly 2010). This book is on the reading list for numerous military and government schools and entities. I have not (yet) read it but will in the future. The attendees included several representatives from the tech industry, banking and government contractors.

The discussion moved between the threats (nation states, state-sponsored actors, non-state actors and organized crime), the government responses to them and why the government is not doing too well. The vulnerability of the electrical grid was prominent in the discussion, as was the growing capabilities of certain states.

The bottom line was this: Carr believes we are presently involved in a cyber war. He separates himself from the position of Adm. (ret) Mike McConnell (former DNI, now with Booz Allen Hamilton) who famously stated that we were in a cyber war, and we were losing. Carr feels the difference is that McConnell sees this war in more traditional terms, which is inaccurate, and that does a disservice to the debate (over inflated rhetoric). Carr’s contention is that this war is being fought on a totally different level by our adversaries, and the United States has yet to appreciate this difference.

One example he gave was the efforts to develop cyber arms control agreements. Carr said that our (potential) enemies are happy to make agreements on locking down future cyber weapons, because they are not planning to fight that way. They are using espionage to rob us blind and eventually force our economy into a subservient position. We are looking at a form of economic attack (my words, not Carr’s). Carr calls it “ultra low intensity asymmetric conflict.” A long name, but we’re really trying to get this stuff right. Our lack of understanding of this very Sun Tsu-type warfare is key and is a bedeviling one for our Clauswitzian warriors.

The key role of definitions was the closing part of the discussion, so we can get to a place where we don’t talk past each other. The critical role of the private sector was another key point, particularly looking at how we can incentivize businesses to protect themselves. The first priority is to protect the electrical grid (which is hopelessly vulnerable).

One hopes this series will continue to raise awareness and push forward the battle to reach definitional consensus (and eventually take positive action).

Dr. Steven Bucci is director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. He was previously a lead consultant to IBM on cyber security policy. Bucci’s military and government service make him a recognized expert in the interagency process and defense of U.S. interests, particularly with regard to critical infrastructure and what he calls the productive interplay of government and the private sector. Read More
  • Thanks for your coverage of yesterday's roundtable. It was a pleasure chatting with you and the other attendees. What an amazing group of savvy, talented people. I hope to see you all again next year.