Excerpt: Cashing In on Cyberpower


The following is an excerpt from Cashing in on Cyberpower: How Interdependent Actors Seek Economic Outcomes in a Digital World (May 2018) by Mark T. Peters II. 

During the past several years, media outlets seem consumed with both the idea and the potential for cyberattacks across every aspect of society. Everywhere you turn, someone is discussing who hacked whom, which group obtained data, and where it will happen next. The missing piece—always—is why. This book will examine a small portion of the question of why, splitting out, in a categorical way, which actors used cyber-based means to create economic power shifts in the global cyberspace commons (GCC). Assessing and attributing how and who is vitally important to cybersecurity practitioners in their daily pursuit of secure networks, but understanding why and to what end actions are taken allows strategists to plan. Planning, especially for the GCC, is essential for our own nation as well as for many other states and organizations of every size.

Over recent centuries, nations struggling for increased power over their neighbors mainly sought symmetric advantages, using hard-power techniques to crush enemies through advantages in military force, coercion, and domination. Even in recent years, symmetric hard power was used in U.S. campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in nato ventures in Serbia and Libya. Cyber means offer an opportunity to pursue both asymmetric and soft-power approaches to assert influence between states. This study focuses on discovering cyber means and strategies used by state and non-state actors to achieve economic ends over the past ten years. Cyber-enabled economic ways, at their most effective, can include intellectual property theft to circumvent years of planning and billions in research, espionage to uncover carefully planned trade strategies, or outright market manipulation through resource and currency values. An actor’s goals could be to change economic outcomes without the massive resource investment required for military force deployments.

The work examined how modern actors used cyberpower to create economic effects involving transfer of data, financial benefit, or power shifts. The increasingly digital and interconnected nature of our world suggests cyber techniques to breach, access, disrupt, deny data influences, and manipulate the GCC to achieve desired outcomes. Shifting GCC-based outcomes fits closely with an increasingly applicable international relations viewpoint described as interdependence. Interdependence’s basic tenets helped form the basis for why cyberpower approaches were preferred by GCC actors during this text. Studying the cyber events reported over the past ten years through the Center for Strategic and International Studies provided the opportunity to assess and compare them. When written, this book was one of the few to study cyber events operationally from a comparative basis, and no current texts focus exclusively on event-driven economic outcomes achieved through cyberspace on such a wide scope. Focusing on economic outcomes allowed a detailed look at which cyberpower options were available for a wide variety of actors.

Three areas consistently explored through this research offer an opportunity to explore the growing problem of state and non-state actors manipulating cyberspace to their economic advantage: interdependence theory, power applications, and analysis. The first area, interdependence theory, helps explain how the cyberspace attached to a desk computer becomes the GCC. This foundational theory demonstrates the possibilities of manipulating various channels to achieve economic ends without employing military power. After the book establishes the nature of those linkages, the second step is exploring how applying power across those channels creates the desired effects. When one talks about power in a strategic context, the common understanding is that the term refers to the ability to coerce or subvert someone into doing something they did not originally desire to do. In this research, it is shown how the GCC is an environment that allows actors to apply pressure through interdependent linkages.

Having established this solid baseline, this book then explores how these various activities can be made visible and compared in order to allow a deeper understanding of why all the events seem to have happened before separating several economically focused items. Cyberspace’s man-made nature and the fact that nothing ever truly disappears from the digital domain make it possible for this focused research to view and explore these linkages. The coherent methods applied demonstrate actor linkages through an increasing number of noncorporeal ties. These ties are identified by cyberspace’s own nature, and the influences created, or attempted, may be tracked. Once the why has been quantitatively explained through careful consideration of all events, this book explores several case studies in detail, explaining how their “why” developed.

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