The specter of cyberwar puts new demands on defenders

Cyberspace is recognized by many nations as a new combat domain, alongside land, sea, air, and space. A study by the UN Institute for Disarmament Research identified 33 nations that address cyberwarfare in their military planning. Unlike the traditional domains, cyberspace is manmade and has ill-defined boundaries, cutting across the military, civilian and private sectors. This demands a new type of warrior and puts a premium on collaboration.

One advantage we have in facing these challenges is a common infrastructure that is shared across the sectors. Although this environment can create common vectors for attack, it also lets industry constantly work to harden and support that infrastructure, performing security research and defining a secure architecture. The results of that work are available across sectors.

One of the first difficulties posed by cyberwar is defining it. The limits are not as clear as in traditional warfare. It can refer to the method of attack, to the motivation, or to the identity of the attacker, but none of these is a sure method. Identity often is hard to pin down quickly, and the same methods and motives can apply to different types of attackers, from nation states to organized criminals, activists, terrorists, and spies—both military and industrial. The response to a cyber attack usually is determined by its impact rather than by definition. The scale of the attack, its seriousness and who is being attacked will determine who responds. If national security is affected, the military might respond. If it appears to be a case of espionage, it would be the FBI. Whether an attack is warfare, hacktivism or crime, systems owners and operators remain responsible for protecting their systems.

This lack of clear-cut jurisdictions puts a premium on collaboration. The military, law enforcement agencies and private sector must work together countering threats, without waiting to determine whose responsibility it is.

The stakes are rising for the military in cyberspace. As armed forces become more network centric, cyberwar has evolved from just intercepting and disrupting signals in the theatre to disrupting operational capacity. Offensive cyber weapons now have the capability to do physical damage to critical infrastructure, resulting in destruction of property and injury or death.

A new type of soldier is needed to counter these threats, with skills that cannot be quickly taught. These professional troops have computer science and engineering degrees, which make them valuable to industry as well as to cyber commands, and the military today is competing for this manpower not only with enemy nations, but with the private sector as well.

With states under increasing pressure to develop capabilities to defend their cyberspace, Microsoft participates with NATO in the Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia, working not only to develop security technology for all players but also to help establish global norms for national behavior in cyberspace. This is a continuation of a process begun 400 years ago to establish an international law of the sea, and will help establish such foundational concepts as how borders apply in a borderless domain and the applicability of international law to this manmade space.

While enterprises, both national and private, work to defend their slices of cyberspace, developing a global understanding of cybersecurity priorities will help establish norms of cyber-behavior that can improve the security of all.

Sergio Ortega Cruz
Worldwide Industry Solution Manager, Public Safety and National Security

About the Author

Sergio Ortega Cruz | Worldwide Industry Solution Manager, Public Safety and National Security

Sergio Ortega Cruz has more than 14 years of experience managing sales strategies, go-to-market initiatives, and partner development in several verticals, covering virtually all facets of the public safety, justice and national security industries. Read More