"The West Is Falling Behind Russia and China."
Yes, but not how you think. Russia and China are busy sharpening their cyberweapons and are already well steeped in using them. The Russian military clandestinely crippled Estonia's economy in 2007 and Georgia's government and banks in 2008. The People's Liberation Army's numerous Chinese cyberwarriors have long inserted "logic bombs" and "trapdoors" into America's critical infrastructure, lying dormant and ready to wreak havoc on the country's grid and bourse in case of a crisis. Both countries have access to technology, cash, and talent -- and have more room for malicious maneuvers than law-abiding Western democracies poised to fight cyberwar with one hand tied behind their backs.
Or so the alarmists tell us. Reality looks quite different. Stuxnet, by far the most sophisticated cyberattack on record, was most likely a U.S.-Israeli operation. Yes, Russia and China have demonstrated significant skills in cyberespionage, but the fierceness of Eastern cyberwarriors and their coded weaponry is almost certainly overrated. When it comes to military-grade offensive attacks, America and Israel seem to be well ahead of the curve.
Ironically, it's a different kind of cybersecurity that Russia and China may be more worried about. Why is it that those countries, along with such beacons of liberal democracy as Uzbekistan, have suggested that the United Nations establish an "international code of conduct" for cybersecurity? Cyberespionage was elegantly ignored in the suggested wording for the convention, as virtual break-ins at the Pentagon and Google remain a favorite official and corporate pastime of both countries. But what Western democracies see as constitutionally protected free speech in cyberspace, Moscow and Beijing regard as a new threat to their ability to control their citizens. Cybersecurity has a broader meaning in non-democracies: For them, the worst-case scenario is not collapsing power plants, but collapsing political power.
The social media-fueled Arab Spring has provided dictators with a case study in the need to patrol cyberspace not only for subversive code, but also for subversive ideas. The fall of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Libya's Muammar al-Qaddafi surely sent shivers down the spines of officials in Russia and China. No wonder the two countries asked for a code of conduct that helps combat activities that use communications technologies -- "including networks" (read: social networks) -- to undermine "political, economic and social stability."
So Russia and China are ahead of the United States, but mostly in defining cybersecurity as the fight against subversive behavior. This is the true cyberwar they are fighting.
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