Warfare’s Long Tail – Cyber Warfare in Georgia

800Px-Long Tail

A quick summize search will take you to a bunch of articles like this one focusing on Georgia and Russia’s cyber war; the one that is paralleling the much more deadly kinetic exchange on ground and in the air. While giving the reader ample opportunity to reminisce about Estonia, the reporting raises the usual questions. Where does state sponsorship (and intent) end and “volunteerism” begin? Who is responsible for the attacks and how are they carried out? That sort of thing.



I guess I’m struck as much by who’s not talking about the cyber side of things. As you read the articles you find the intelligence reports coming from non-profits (e.g.
Shadowserver Foundation), private companies (renesys) and private citizens (e.g. Armin) rather than from intelligence agency public briefings. The defensive infrastructure is being supplied by companies like Deutsch Telekom (data links) and Google (blogs to replace downed government web sites). And, well, the offense is probably coming from the RBN.

What you don’t see are press room appearances by a NATO Cyber Defense spokesperson offering assistance or Russian military and government spokespeople talking about their glorious cyber offensives. While the conventional military channels focus on the kinetic war, the “amateurs” talk about (or participate in) the cyber campaign.

Historically, the line between professional militaries and the rest of a society were less clear than it has been since the first world war. Since then, at least in most of the industrialized world, kinetic warfare has been the domain of the professional. We civilians were expected to participate in metal drives and watch news reels and that was about it.



truncated tail

Later, the broadcast medium of television had a significant impact on how professional wars were fought by more tightly coupling success or failure on the battlefield back to the political domain. It dumped real time public reaction and sentiment into the mix and tended to shorten the cycle of political consequence. However, television did little to change who actually did the fighting.

Now it’s different. In the same way it is impacting so many facets of modern life, the Internet appears to be bringing the long tail of participation to at least the cyber domain of modern warfare. As the professional militaries continue to develop capability in this domain we may ultimately see the tail and the head link up in a more seamless manner than we’ve seen in conventional warfare for a long time.

Comments

  1. Porter - August 11, 2008 @ 3:48 pm

    Historically, the line between professional militaries and the rest of a society were less clear than it has been since the first world war. Since then, at least in most of the industrialized world, kinetic warfare has been the domain of the professional. We civilians were expected to participate in metal drives and watch news reels and that was about it.

    Yes. And no. Much of that statement depends on your relative perspective in warfare. With the advent of World War II – that marked the strategy of “Total Warfare”:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_Warfare

    World War II was not just metal drives by civilians – it was the bending of the entire will of the country towards the purpose of making war. It was the employment of strategies designed to reduce our enemies ability to make war by bombing civilian structures which produced war goods.

    And this – is the war practiced by the “civilized” “First World”. We need not mention the “Third World” and the collectives of militias, warlords, and such – which can hardly be termed “professional”.

    The biggest change “cyber” has had is the acceleration of the dissemination of intelligence/propaganda to a global audience. And that is why it becomes a target for conventional warfare – for all the same reasons communications capabilities have been targeted for thousands of years. The cyber-ness of it may enable more participation by civilians – but don’t ignore civilian involvement in the current era as well as private ones – even when they are just casualties.

  2. Jeffrrey - August 11, 2008 @ 8:14 pm

    Great post, Jim. What strikes me as significant is the “nationalization” of the RBN by Russia’s FSB (reportedly) as a kind of cyber militia, rather than installing a formal Russian military cyber warfare division as the US Air Force is doing.

    I posted about this over the weekend and included a reference to some research that I did earlier this year on Russia’s Cyberwarfare strategy and the role of the FSB.

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