The Strongest Tribe: Issues of power in cyberspace

Mikko Hypponen has a mea culpa about Flame that is worth reading. The F-Secure chief believes that antivirus companies, including his own, failed to detect Flame and that this failure has broader implications:

The truth is, consumer-grade antivirus products can’t protect against targeted malware created by well-resourced nation-states with bulging budgets. They can protect you against run-of-the-mill malware: banking trojans, keystroke loggers, and e-mail worms. But targeted attacks like these go to great lengths to avoid antivirus products on purpose. And the zero-day exploits used in these attacks are unknown to antivirus companies by definition. As far as we can tell, before releasing their malicious codes to attack victims, the attackers tested them against all of the relevant antivirus products on the market to make sure that the malware wouldn’t be detected. They have unlimited time to perfect their attacks. It’s not a fair war between the attackers and the defenders when the attackers have access to our weapons.

In short: all of the AV gear in the world is not going to protect you when a well-resourced state intelligence service is trying to execute a zero-day exploit against your systems, just like even the most expensive private security would not save your life if the Navy SEALs came for you like they did for Bin Laden. This is significant, not only for network defense, but also for the way we think about power and security online. Simply put: states are dominant in cyberspace. States are the primary threats precisely because of their greater resources and ability to generate political and military outcomes. State power, is of course, not total in cyberspace, just as there are many offline disruptions of power and sovereignty that still nonetheless leave states as the primary actors within the international system.

Richard Stiennon reinforces this message with his latest Forbes blog on the consequences of Stuxnet. Operation Olympic Games, Stiennon argues, risks creating a tension between the worldwide IT industry, which focuses on providing cyber defenses to all, and the US government, which seeks to develop offensive cyber capabilities for covert action and military operations. Stiennon predicts that the US government, should it desire, may clamp down on AV vendors in order to deprive likely targets of defensive capabilities. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies have demanded backdoors in everything from encryption to social network profiles. Finally, the SOPA/PIPA mess also illustrates the degree to which governments have far-reaching powers to regulate cyberspace. Cyberspace is often analogized to the Wild West, but one forgets that in the real West the US government eventually developed formidable political, military, and law enforcement coercive powers to enforce its writ.

While this might seem like common sense, it runs against one of the Web’s strongest prevailing mythos. In 1996, John Perry Barlow declared that cyberspace itself was independent and could never be tamed by government:

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather. We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.

Now, some caveats: Barlow did not mean that cyberspace was literally independent. But the basic utopian spirit of his declaration spread throughout the technorati. Glib slogans like “Information wants to be free” and “the Internet routes around censorship” melded with a myth of “Twitter Revolutions” during the 2009 Iranian election crisis and the Arab spring. The idea that there is something sacred in information freedom is the closest thing that can be called a motivating principle for Anonymous. But Barlow’s successors confused an admirable normative idea of how information power should be–the Internet should not be hobbled by government regulation–into an assessment of the actual relationship between state and non-state entities in the information sphere. In other words, Barlow’s declaration of independence of cyberspace is looking more and more like the cyber equivalent of Paris Commune today. Beautiful and admirable, for sure. But also incredibly fragile.

Does this mean that government is in firm control of cyberspace or should exercise complete control? No to both questions. As Tim Stevens observed, cyberspace provides opportunities for infringement of sovereignty every nanosecond. Anonymous’ success at the expense of the feds and the constant foreign criminal and intelligence service intrusion in both government and corporate systems. And the prosperity cyberspace has delivered is imperiled, or at least heavily complicated, by a tight government rein and the second and third-order effects of offensive cyberwarfare efforts. But as a statement of day-to-day truth, Uncle Sam is the “strongest tribe” in the Internet’s Wild West where it counts.

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About AdamElkus

Adam Elkus is a PhD student in Computational Social Science at George Mason University. He writes on national security, technology, and strategy at CTOvision.com and the new analysis focused Analyst One, War on the Rocks, and his own blog Rethinking Security. His work has been published in The Atlantic, Journal of Military Operations Foreign Policy, West Point Counterterrorism Center Sentinel, and other publications.

  • lldzne

    Adam,
    Thanks for an interesting article. I would not have given it much thought beyond its content had I not been reading Plato’s Republic’s at the time the tweet from @lldzne @JohnFMoore alerted me to it.
     
    I am puzzled and a bit alarmed by your analysis.
     
    First, I would hesitate to characterise the United States or any government as a tribe.  As such, that invalidates a fundamental principle within the United States, of which you are a citizen, the rule of law.  Tribal loyalties supersede the law.  By contrast, the law, the rule of law, are above the tribe.  We can see this in the discussion of the first two books of Plato’s republic.  What is justice is seen as what is good for the city and yet, it is modified by a higher law that the city must mediate. In the case of the United States, it is the constitution. We, American citizens, are bound by the constitutions NOT a loyalty to a tribe.
    Now, in the international realm, one may accept that international relations reflect a tribal understanding of justice. Yet, that ignores what the United States (and other democracies) has been doing (with fits and starts) since 1948: upholding the UN Charter.  In other words, there has been an on-going attempt to bring the rule of law to the international politics.
     
    Second, one should pause and give a thought to what it would mean for our safety as citizens and our allegiance to a government, any government that draws it legitimacy, in large part from its ability to protect us, when a government CANNOT protect us.  Do you really want a world where you rely upon a private company to protect you?  Do you see that as more accountable than a democratic government bound by the rule of law and due process?  I like the various anti-virus providers, but I certainly would not put the safety of the regime, in their hands.  Why would you allow an unelected private corporation to have that power over you? 
     
    The lessons of the phone hacking scandal in the United Kingdom and Rupert Murdoch’s baleful effect on the United Kingdom’s political culture should give one pause for thought.  The reporters and editors, of a private corporation, determined what was in the public interest to hack into phones, dig through waste bins, and put its corporate enemies under surveillance. In effect, they, and not elected officials determined the public interest and they justified all sorts of activities that benefit the newspaper without a concern for accountability.
     
    Third, how can anyone seriously believe that their AV, even the top of the line from a private company, is going to stand up to a government focused on breaking it? I do not mean from a technical perspective, I mean from the sense that governments have more tools and resources at their disposal for just this reason.
     
    Fourth, why do you assume states are threats?  I am more likely to die from food poisoning when a restaurant employee forgets to wash his hands after using the toilet than I am from the Seal Team Six.  We forget at our peril the reasons why we have governments in the first place.  The analysis, and others such as this, forgets the purpose and meaning of government: justice, common good, common defence.  The analysis that the state is a threat because it has more resources misses the point of why or how the state has more resources. It conflates resources with intent.  Moreover, it makes the individual the judge of the common good rather than accepting that common good as embodied in the law. In other words, it allows every individual to act as the tyrant.  They do not need to obey any law they do not like. The idea is deeply corrosive and it runs throughout cyberspace. The hidden problem with this view is that it leads to a brutal world where might makes right. The strongest will rule in cyberspace. One needs to go back to a pre-technological era to understand this point. Thucydides said it best.
    The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must; only between equals, can there be justice.
    In a democracy, we are equals before the law and before nature. Without a government, there is no equality.  As such, a good government act as a good shepherd in cyberspace. Without them, we would be prey to the wolves.  In other words, we need good government in cyberspace for the same reasons we need it in the physical world.  The worst form of government is one that preys upon its people. See Syria to see this in action. Do you seriously believe that the United States government is acting towards its citizens as the Syrian government has been doing?
     
    I am also puzzled by the reference to the Paris Commune. Surely, the world is not in the situation of France.  The ideal of the commune was hardly as benevolent as one would imagine. To be sure, the conditions before the uprising were terrible and the fact that France had lost the war did not help.  Yet, there is no comparison between the West, at least, of 2012 and Paris of March 1871.  I appreciate the motives of the Occupy movement, but it seems incredible to equate the living conditions within Paris with those in Western capitals today.
     
    Finally, there is a sad misunderstanding that if a government regulates cyberspace it controls it.  A government regulates our physical space, there are laws, but that does not mean the government controls our actions.  We live under laws of our own making.  In doing so, we benefit from them and we have redress when they are broken. We can exercise free speech, the right of assembly and other rights within the law.  Why should this not be the case cyberspace?  Would you really want to live in a world, or a city, where the rule of law does not exist? How will you defend yourself? Soon you would have to turn to a local warlord or a protector. Yet, how would you judge their justice?  Moreover, whom would you turn to if the local protector turned out to be a wolf rather than a shepherd?  In effect, we return to where we started a need to understand the reason why we have governments in the first place.  An understanding that seems sadly lacking in most debates of cyberspace.

    • http://ctovision.com/ aelkus

       @lldzne  I will reply line-by-line.
       
      “First, I would hesitate to characterise the United States or any government as a tribe.  As such, that invalidates a fundamental principle within the United States, of which you are a citizen, the rule of law.  Tribal loyalties supersede the law.  By contrast, the law, the rule of law, are above the tribe.”
       
      I did not call the US government a tribe. The phrase “the strongest tribe” is a reference to the book of the same name about what locals called the United States Army and Marine Corps in Iraq. Since cyberspace is popularly analogized to be the Wild West, I further the analogy that states are the “strongest tribes.” The analogy is as fantastic as a Clint Eastwood movie and not meant to be taken literally.
       
      “Second, one should pause and give a thought to what it would mean for our safety as citizens and our allegiance to a government, any government that draws it legitimacy, in large part from its ability to protect us, when a government CANNOT protect us.  Do you really want a world where you rely upon a private company to protect you?  Do you see that as more accountable than a democratic government bound by the rule of law and due process?  I like the various anti-virus providers, but I certainly would not put the safety of the regime, in their hands.  Why would you allow an unelected private corporation to have that power over you?”
       
      Since the analysis as a whole is dedicated to refuting the notion that states somehow have been overtaken in the international system by private actors, I needless to say do not make a normative commitment to the idea that a private corporation should have expansive powers. Although it should be noted that private actors are technically responsible for most of day-to-day defense of critical infrastructure in the US.
       
      “Third, how can anyone seriously believe that their AV, even the top of the line from a private company, is going to stand up to a government focused on breaking it? I do not mean from a technical perspective, I mean from the sense that governments have more tools and resources at their disposal for just this reason.”
       
      The mere absurdity of such an idea is what I have been arguing against.  I have even used the phrase “More tools and resources” in the blog. The commonsense nature of the idea that an AV vendor cannot stand up to a well-resourced military-industrial complex is a data point in favor of the “strongest tribe” thesis.
       
       

    • http://ctovision.com/ aelkus

      @lldzne
      “Fourth, why do you assume states are threats?  I am more likely to die from food poisoning when a restaurant employee forgets to wash his hands after using the toilet than I am from the Seal Team Six.  We forget at our peril the reasons why we have governments in the first place.  The analysis, and others such as this, forgets the purpose and meaning of government: justice, common good, common defence.  The analysis that the state is a threat because it has more resources misses the point of why or how the state has more resources. It conflates resources with intent.”
       
      States are the biggest man-made threats, purely by basis of capability, in the international system to public safety. Should the Russians fire an ICBM, equations about hand-washing goes out the window. Intent, of course, matters too–threats are “capability + intent.” I have written elsewhere about the importance of plausible scenarios in security based predominately on internet. 
       
      But it has become fashionable to argue that cyberspace and globalization have equalized states and non-state actors in the security realm. The AV example I cited is evidence to the contrary.  In making a comparative power analysis, structural factors will necessarily weigh heavily.
       
      “In other words, it allows every individual to act as the tyrant.  They do not need to obey any law they do not like. The idea is deeply corrosive and it runs throughout cyberspace. The hidden problem with this view is that it leads to a brutal world where might makes right. The strongest will rule in cyberspace. One needs to go back to a pre-technological era to understand this point. Thucydides said it best. The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must; only between equals, can there be justice. In a democracy, we are equals before the law and before nature. Without a government, there is no equality.  As such, a good government act as a good shepherd in cyberspace. Without them, we would be prey to the wolves.  In other words, we need good government in cyberspace for the same reasons we need it in the physical world.  The worst form of government is one that preys upon its people. See Syria to see this in action. Do you seriously believe that the United States government is acting towards its citizens as the Syrian government has been doing?
       
      I am curious to see how my analysis, which takes an neutral view of political philosophy and is oriented around power in the international system, takes a position one way or the other on a government’s internal conduct. This is analysis that tries to state what is, rather than what it should or should not be. i believe that states should be sound stewards of domestic conduct, but whether or not they will or will not be is entirely up to them and their own domestic politics. To be more clear: good government is a normative plus, but a government has the power to behave well and act as a spoiler. This analysis also has no comments to make on Syria or American domestic politics for that matter.
       
      “I am also puzzled by the reference to the Paris Commune. Surely, the world is not in the situation of France.  The ideal of the commune was hardly as benevolent as one would imagine. To be sure, the conditions before the uprising were terrible and the fact that France had lost the war did not help.  Yet, there is no comparison between the West, at least, of 2012 and Paris of March 1871.  I appreciate the motives of the Occupy movement, but it seems incredible to equate the living conditions within Paris with those in Western capitals today.”
      The reference to the Paris Commune is a metaphorical comparison between its idealism and that of Barlow’s idea of cyberspace. Both are beautiful, but also fragile as all other communes, utopias.
       
      “Finally, there is a sad misunderstanding that if a government regulates cyberspace it controls it.  A government regulates our physical space, there are laws, but that does not mean the government controls our actions.  We live under laws of our own making.  In doing so, we benefit from them and we have redress when they are broken. We can exercise free speech, the right of assembly and other rights within the law.  Why should this not be the case cyberspace?  Would you really want to live in a world, or a city, where the rule of law does not exist? How will you defend yourself? Soon you would have to turn to a local warlord or a protector. Yet, how would you judge their justice?  Moreover, whom would you turn to if the local protector turned out to be a wolf rather than a shepherd?  In effect, we return to where we started a need to understand the reason why we have governments in the first place.  An understanding that seems sadly lacking in most debates of cyberspace.”
       
      Again, I am not making a normative analysis. I am, as per your Thucydides reference earlier, trying to state what is rather than what it can or should be. The topic of the justness of government and the wolf and the shepherd is a matter that this analysis really has no comment on (mostly for space limitations).
       
      As a day-to-day matter, governments use law for the purpose of control. Whether or not an individual complies with it or not is an individual choice, but a choice that also has consequences. The government cannot literally control whether or not I speed on the highway, but it can punish me for doing so. Is discipline, enforcement, and punishment perfect or uniform? No. But it substantively exists in the world. Do citizens in a democratic society have control over what is and is now law? Certainly. But this does not contravene the idea that governments, by virtue of their substantial coercive power, can enforce their domestic writ. In fact, as the historical sociologist Charles Tilly has argued about the formation of the European state systems, the emergence of the modern nation-state occured as a result of the suppression of multiple competing centers of power.

      • lldzne

        Adam,
        Thanks for the reply. I inferred from your use of strongest tribe that you were subscribing to that notion, it is in the title, it is in the final sentence and the principle pervades the article. I certainly do not take it as a fantastic notion because that is how much of the world is organised. Tribal loyalties override any democratic rights.  We in the West put ourselves at risk if we forget the power of tribal loyalties.  One only need to consider Rwanda genocide to have a sobering reminder of the power of social or tribal loyalty.  
         
        I am not sure how your article refutes the argument that private organisations cannot challenge states.  On the contrary, the history of the state (as you point out with reference to Charles Tilly) show that it grew out of such Private Military Companies (PMCs) to something else.  Moreover, I have argued, elsewhere, that the state, as state, is under threat from supranational actors as well as subnational.  In many ways, only control over military force (not cyber or economic) are all that define the state. Yet, this is being challenged when PMCs now have the capacity to challenge weaker, smaller states. What stops that from happening, of course, is the international state system would not allow it.  States, they stick together.
         
        I am not sure of your reference to private contractors. My argument was not that private contractors are bad. Rather, I was arguing that private contractors without accountability to the state are bad. Any private contractor working for the US is accountable to the United States Government. There is a very specific reason why you have to be a US citizen to work for the government.
         
        We now move into the crux of the argument.  You are arguing that AV cannot stand up to the state. Why should it?  Perhaps, you may point me to the private company that manufactures combat ready (fully armed) Main Battle Tanks for private ownership in the United States.  Why should a state allow the same in cyberspace that it would not allow in the physical space?
         
        I appreciate your nuance in arguing for a man-made threat. I am intrigued by the notion that the state is only man made and not of a natural origin.  Moreover, it suggests that the state is distinct from the citizens, which goes counter to the principle of the American founding, and re-founding, in that it is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.  In other words, the 10th Amendment has an important role in the United States, which is not duplicated in the UK for example.
         
        I fear you are working under a dangerous delusion concerning capability + threat. You forget opportunity and intent.  Both of these are important to understand given your implicit assumption about the benign character of human nature.  The state is only dangerous if it has the intent to harm. From the perspective of international relations this is why the US does not have a carrier fleet off the UK’s  coast, but does off of the coast of China.  From the perspective of domestic politics, I stressed a good government does not have the intent to harm its citizens.  When a government becomes destructive of the ends to which it is constituted, perhaps the basics such as life and liberty, then it is to be resisted.  When it does those things, it shows its intent, it becomes a threat.  Yet, that is not enough; it also had to have the opportunity.  Any enemy of the United States has the capability to harm it, but they do not have the opportunity. An able-bodied man (or woman) can kill with their hands (or basic weapon) so they have the capacity to harm.  What keeps them from being problematic for the security is that they do not have the opportunity, because of distance and passport controls, to carry out their nefarious intent.  (One has to note that more people died from machetes in Rwanda than have ever been killed by nuclear weapons.)
         
        I would not agree that your analysis, or any analysis of the issue, could take a neutral view.  Either states having dominance in the cybersphere is a good thing or it is not. Even a description of what is accepts the status quo. Moreover, it implicitly accepts that the status quo.  Otherwise, why not condemn it or argue against it?
         
        Are you sure the Paris Commune is a metaphorical comparison? I could imagine other utopias.  If anything, the Commune was a shining example of what is possible. In many ways, France worked in the years following it to mainstream many, but not all, the ideas it expressed.  Moreover, it served as a strong inspiration for Lenin and particularly Mao.  It was hardly a utopia or even a utopian dream.  Instead, it was a physical manifestation, the word turned into deed, of a socialist idea.  Unlike Plato’s Republic, the Paris Commune’s salutary lesson was not to deter us from utopian political ambitions. Instead, it went on to inspire a tyrants such as Mao and Lenin.
         
        I would suggest that cyberspace in the abstract could be a utopia. However, cyberspace as a reality is not a utopia nor could it ever be one. As an extension of the physical realm and, perhaps most definitively, of human nature it cannot be a utopia.
         
        I appreciate that many may misunderstand the intent within Thucydides, yet if there is one thing he was certainly doing it was to teach us lessons about power, politics, and most importantly war.  His is a gift for all time and as such is not simply suggesting what is rather he is, through is narrative, but perhaps most importantly, through his speeches telling us about should be.  One only has to consider the Melian dialogue to see that Thucydides has a powerful lesson to teach us.
         
        What the Flame episode teaches us is how dangerous it is to forget the basic lessons in politics and the state’s fundamental role in protecting itself, and by extension, it citizens from such threats. One could turn to Thucydides for the lessons in hubris as well as the dangerous consequences of such a misplaced faith in such assurances as the power of one’s own technical skill.
         
         

  • lldzne

    Adam,
    Thanks for an interesting article. I would not have given it much thought beyond its content had I not been reading Plato’s Republic’s at the time the tweet from @lldzne @JohnFMoore alerted me to it.
     
    I am puzzled and a bit alarmed by your analysis.
     
    First, I would hesitate to characterise the United States or any government as a tribe.  As such, that invalidates a fundamental principle within the United States, of which you are a citizen, the rule of law.  Tribal loyalties supersede the law.  By contrast, the law, the rule of law, are above the tribe.  We can see this in the discussion of the first two books of Plato’s republic.  What is justice is seen as what is good for the city and yet, it is modified by a higher law that the city must mediate. In the case of the United States, it is the constitution. We, American citizens, are bound by the constitutions NOT a loyalty to a tribe.
    Now, in the international realm, one may accept that international relations reflect a tribal understanding of justice. Yet, that ignores what the United States (and other democracies) has been doing (with fits and starts) since 1948: upholding the UN Charter.  In other words, there has been an on-going attempt to bring the rule of law to the international politics.
     
    Second, one should pause and give a thought to what it would mean for our safety as citizens and our allegiance to a government, any government that draws it legitimacy, in large part from its ability to protect us, when a government CANNOT protect us.  Do you really want a world where you rely upon a private company to protect you?  Do you see that as more accountable than a democratic government bound by the rule of law and due process?  I like the various anti-virus providers, but I certainly would not put the safety of the regime, in their hands.  Why would you allow an unelected private corporation to have that power over you? 
     
    The lessons of the phone hacking scandal in the United Kingdom and Rupert Murdoch’s baleful effect on the United Kingdom’s political culture should give one pause for thought.  The reporters and editors, of a private corporation, determined what was in the public interest to hack into phones, dig through waste bins, and put its corporate enemies under surveillance. In effect, they, and not elected officials determined the public interest and they justified all sorts of activities that benefit the newspaper without a concern for accountability.
     
    Third, how can anyone seriously believe that their AV, even the top of the line from a private company, is going to stand up to a government focused on breaking it? I do not mean from a technical perspective, I mean from the sense that governments have more tools and resources at their disposal for just this reason.
     
    Fourth, why do you assume states are threats?  I am more likely to die from food poisoning when a restaurant employee forgets to wash his hands after using the toilet than I am from the Seal Team Six.  We forget at our peril the reasons why we have governments in the first place.  The analysis, and others such as this, forgets the purpose and meaning of government: justice, common good, common defence.  The analysis that the state is a threat because it has more resources misses the point of why or how the state has more resources. It conflates resources with intent.  Moreover, it makes the individual the judge of the common good rather than accepting that common good as embodied in the law. In other words, it allows every individual to act as the tyrant.  They do not need to obey any law they do not like. The idea is deeply corrosive and it runs throughout cyberspace. The hidden problem with this view is that it leads to a brutal world where might makes right. The strongest will rule in cyberspace. One needs to go back to a pre-technological era to understand this point. Thucydides said it best.
    The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must; only between equals, can there be justice.
    In a democracy, we are equals before the law and before nature. Without a government, there is no equality.  As such, a good government act as a good shepherd in cyberspace. Without them, we would be prey to the wolves.  In other words, we need good government in cyberspace for the same reasons we need it in the physical world.  The worst form of government is one that preys upon its people. See Syria to see this in action. Do you seriously believe that the United States government is acting towards its citizens as the Syrian government has been doing?
     
    I am also puzzled by the reference to the Paris Commune. Surely, the world is not in the situation of France.  The ideal of the commune was hardly as benevolent as one would imagine. To be sure, the conditions before the uprising were terrible and the fact that France had lost the war did not help.  Yet, there is no comparison between the West, at least, of 2012 and Paris of March 1871.  I appreciate the motives of the Occupy movement, but it seems incredible to equate the living conditions within Paris with those in Western capitals today.
     
    Finally, there is a sad misunderstanding that if a government regulates cyberspace it controls it.  A government regulates our physical space, there are laws, but that does not mean the government controls our actions.  We live under laws of our own making.  In doing so, we benefit from them and we have redress when they are broken. We can exercise free speech, the right of assembly and other rights within the law.  Why should this not be the case cyberspace?  Would you really want to live in a world, or a city, where the rule of law does not exist? How will you defend yourself? Soon you would have to turn to a local warlord or a protector. Yet, how would you judge their justice?  Moreover, whom would you turn to if the local protector turned out to be a wolf rather than a shepherd?  In effect, we return to where we started a need to understand the reason why we have governments in the first place.  An understanding that seems sadly lacking in most debates of cyberspace.

    • http://ctovision.com/ aelkus

       @lldzne  I will reply line-by-line.
       
      “First, I would hesitate to characterise the United States or any government as a tribe.  As such, that invalidates a fundamental principle within the United States, of which you are a citizen, the rule of law.  Tribal loyalties supersede the law.  By contrast, the law, the rule of law, are above the tribe.”
       
      I did not call the US government a tribe. The phrase “the strongest tribe” is a reference to the book of the same name about what locals called the United States Army and Marine Corps in Iraq. Since cyberspace is popularly analogized to be the Wild West, I further the analogy that states are the “strongest tribes.” The analogy is as fantastic as a Clint Eastwood movie and not meant to be taken literally.
       
      “Second, one should pause and give a thought to what it would mean for our safety as citizens and our allegiance to a government, any government that draws it legitimacy, in large part from its ability to protect us, when a government CANNOT protect us.  Do you really want a world where you rely upon a private company to protect you?  Do you see that as more accountable than a democratic government bound by the rule of law and due process?  I like the various anti-virus providers, but I certainly would not put the safety of the regime, in their hands.  Why would you allow an unelected private corporation to have that power over you?”
       
      Since the analysis as a whole is dedicated to refuting the notion that states somehow have been overtaken in the international system by private actors, I needless to say do not make a normative commitment to the idea that a private corporation should have expansive powers. Although it should be noted that private actors are technically responsible for most of day-to-day defense of critical infrastructure in the US.
       
      “Third, how can anyone seriously believe that their AV, even the top of the line from a private company, is going to stand up to a government focused on breaking it? I do not mean from a technical perspective, I mean from the sense that governments have more tools and resources at their disposal for just this reason.”
       
      The mere absurdity of such an idea is what I have been arguing against.  I have even used the phrase “More tools and resources” in the blog. The commonsense nature of the idea that an AV vendor cannot stand up to a well-resourced military-industrial complex is a data point in favor of the “strongest tribe” thesis.
       
       

    • http://ctovision.com/ aelkus

      @lldzne
      “Fourth, why do you assume states are threats?  I am more likely to die from food poisoning when a restaurant employee forgets to wash his hands after using the toilet than I am from the Seal Team Six.  We forget at our peril the reasons why we have governments in the first place.  The analysis, and others such as this, forgets the purpose and meaning of government: justice, common good, common defence.  The analysis that the state is a threat because it has more resources misses the point of why or how the state has more resources. It conflates resources with intent.”
       
      States are the biggest man-made threats, purely by basis of capability, in the international system to public safety. Should the Russians fire an ICBM, equations about hand-washing goes out the window. Intent, of course, matters too–threats are “capability + intent.” I have written elsewhere about the importance of plausible scenarios in security based predominately on internet. 
       
      But it has become fashionable to argue that cyberspace and globalization have equalized states and non-state actors in the security realm. The AV example I cited is evidence to the contrary.  In making a comparative power analysis, structural factors will necessarily weigh heavily.
       
      “In other words, it allows every individual to act as the tyrant.  They do not need to obey any law they do not like. The idea is deeply corrosive and it runs throughout cyberspace. The hidden problem with this view is that it leads to a brutal world where might makes right. The strongest will rule in cyberspace. One needs to go back to a pre-technological era to understand this point. Thucydides said it best. The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must; only between equals, can there be justice. In a democracy, we are equals before the law and before nature. Without a government, there is no equality.  As such, a good government act as a good shepherd in cyberspace. Without them, we would be prey to the wolves.  In other words, we need good government in cyberspace for the same reasons we need it in the physical world.  The worst form of government is one that preys upon its people. See Syria to see this in action. Do you seriously believe that the United States government is acting towards its citizens as the Syrian government has been doing?
       
      I am curious to see how my analysis, which takes an neutral view of political philosophy and is oriented around power in the international system, takes a position one way or the other on a government’s internal conduct. This is analysis that tries to state what is, rather than what it should or should not be. i believe that states should be sound stewards of domestic conduct, but whether or not they will or will not be is entirely up to them and their own domestic politics. To be more clear: good government is a normative plus, but a government has the power to behave well and act as a spoiler. This analysis also has no comments to make on Syria or American domestic politics for that matter.
       
      “I am also puzzled by the reference to the Paris Commune. Surely, the world is not in the situation of France.  The ideal of the commune was hardly as benevolent as one would imagine. To be sure, the conditions before the uprising were terrible and the fact that France had lost the war did not help.  Yet, there is no comparison between the West, at least, of 2012 and Paris of March 1871.  I appreciate the motives of the Occupy movement, but it seems incredible to equate the living conditions within Paris with those in Western capitals today.”
      The reference to the Paris Commune is a metaphorical comparison between its idealism and that of Barlow’s idea of cyberspace. Both are beautiful, but also fragile as all other communes, utopias.
       
      “Finally, there is a sad misunderstanding that if a government regulates cyberspace it controls it.  A government regulates our physical space, there are laws, but that does not mean the government controls our actions.  We live under laws of our own making.  In doing so, we benefit from them and we have redress when they are broken. We can exercise free speech, the right of assembly and other rights within the law.  Why should this not be the case cyberspace?  Would you really want to live in a world, or a city, where the rule of law does not exist? How will you defend yourself? Soon you would have to turn to a local warlord or a protector. Yet, how would you judge their justice?  Moreover, whom would you turn to if the local protector turned out to be a wolf rather than a shepherd?  In effect, we return to where we started a need to understand the reason why we have governments in the first place.  An understanding that seems sadly lacking in most debates of cyberspace.”
       
      Again, I am not making a normative analysis. I am, as per your Thucydides reference earlier, trying to state what is rather than what it can or should be. The topic of the justness of government and the wolf and the shepherd is a matter that this analysis really has no comment on (mostly for space limitations).
       
      As a day-to-day matter, governments use law for the purpose of control. Whether or not an individual complies with it or not is an individual choice, but a choice that also has consequences. The government cannot literally control whether or not I speed on the highway, but it can punish me for doing so. Is discipline, enforcement, and punishment perfect or uniform? No. But it substantively exists in the world. Do citizens in a democratic society have control over what is and is now law? Certainly. But this does not contravene the idea that governments, by virtue of their substantial coercive power, can enforce their domestic writ. In fact, as the historical sociologist Charles Tilly has argued about the formation of the European state systems, the emergence of the modern nation-state occured as a result of the suppression of multiple competing centers of power.

      • lldzne

        Adam,
        Thanks for the reply. I inferred from your use of strongest tribe that you were subscribing to that notion, it is in the title, it is in the final sentence and the principle pervades the article. I certainly do not take it as a fantastic notion because that is how much of the world is organised. Tribal loyalties override any democratic rights.  We in the West put ourselves at risk if we forget the power of tribal loyalties.  One only need to consider Rwanda genocide to have a sobering reminder of the power of social or tribal loyalty.  
         
        I am not sure how your article refutes the argument that private organisations cannot challenge states.  On the contrary, the history of the state (as you point out with reference to Charles Tilly) show that it grew out of such Private Military Companies (PMCs) to something else.  Moreover, I have argued, elsewhere, that the state, as state, is under threat from supranational actors as well as subnational.  In many ways, only control over military force (not cyber or economic) are all that define the state. Yet, this is being challenged when PMCs now have the capacity to challenge weaker, smaller states. What stops that from happening, of course, is the international state system would not allow it.  States, they stick together.
         
        I am not sure of your reference to private contractors. My argument was not that private contractors are bad. Rather, I was arguing that private contractors without accountability to the state are bad. Any private contractor working for the US is accountable to the United States Government. There is a very specific reason why you have to be a US citizen to work for the government.
         
        We now move into the crux of the argument.  You are arguing that AV cannot stand up to the state. Why should it?  Perhaps, you may point me to the private company that manufactures combat ready (fully armed) Main Battle Tanks for private ownership in the United States.  Why should a state allow the same in cyberspace that it would not allow in the physical space?
         
        I appreciate your nuance in arguing for a man-made threat. I am intrigued by the notion that the state is only man made and not of a natural origin.  Moreover, it suggests that the state is distinct from the citizens, which goes counter to the principle of the American founding, and re-founding, in that it is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.  In other words, the 10th Amendment has an important role in the United States, which is not duplicated in the UK for example.
         
        I fear you are working under a dangerous delusion concerning capability + threat. You forget opportunity and intent.  Both of these are important to understand given your implicit assumption about the benign character of human nature.  The state is only dangerous if it has the intent to harm. From the perspective of international relations this is why the US does not have a carrier fleet off the UK’s  coast, but does off of the coast of China.  From the perspective of domestic politics, I stressed a good government does not have the intent to harm its citizens.  When a government becomes destructive of the ends to which it is constituted, perhaps the basics such as life and liberty, then it is to be resisted.  When it does those things, it shows its intent, it becomes a threat.  Yet, that is not enough; it also had to have the opportunity.  Any enemy of the United States has the capability to harm it, but they do not have the opportunity. An able-bodied man (or woman) can kill with their hands (or basic weapon) so they have the capacity to harm.  What keeps them from being problematic for the security is that they do not have the opportunity, because of distance and passport controls, to carry out their nefarious intent.  (One has to note that more people died from machetes in Rwanda than have ever been killed by nuclear weapons.)
         
        I would not agree that your analysis, or any analysis of the issue, could take a neutral view.  Either states having dominance in the cybersphere is a good thing or it is not. Even a description of what is accepts the status quo. Moreover, it implicitly accepts that the status quo.  Otherwise, why not condemn it or argue against it?
         
        Are you sure the Paris Commune is a metaphorical comparison? I could imagine other utopias.  If anything, the Commune was a shining example of what is possible. In many ways, France worked in the years following it to mainstream many, but not all, the ideas it expressed.  Moreover, it served as a strong inspiration for Lenin and particularly Mao.  It was hardly a utopia or even a utopian dream.  Instead, it was a physical manifestation, the word turned into deed, of a socialist idea.  Unlike Plato’s Republic, the Paris Commune’s salutary lesson was not to deter us from utopian political ambitions. Instead, it went on to inspire a tyrants such as Mao and Lenin.
         
        I would suggest that cyberspace in the abstract could be a utopia. However, cyberspace as a reality is not a utopia nor could it ever be one. As an extension of the physical realm and, perhaps most definitively, of human nature it cannot be a utopia.
         
        I appreciate that many may misunderstand the intent within Thucydides, yet if there is one thing he was certainly doing it was to teach us lessons about power, politics, and most importantly war.  His is a gift for all time and as such is not simply suggesting what is rather he is, through is narrative, but perhaps most importantly, through his speeches telling us about should be.  One only has to consider the Melian dialogue to see that Thucydides has a powerful lesson to teach us.
         
        What the Flame episode teaches us is how dangerous it is to forget the basic lessons in politics and the state’s fundamental role in protecting itself, and by extension, it citizens from such threats. One could turn to Thucydides for the lessons in hubris as well as the dangerous consequences of such a misplaced faith in such assurances as the power of one’s own technical skill.
         
         

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  • https://twitter.com/#!/FragileVessels Peter

    Re “Stiennon predicts that the US government, should it desire, may clamp down on AV vendors in order to deprive likely targets of defensive capabilities.”
     
    There’s an obvious contradiction here. If standard AV is ineffective against the likes of Flame (and I don’t disagree with Hypponen’s assessment), then why would the US bother clamping down on the AV industry, especially as it would hurt American vendors?
     
    Hypponen says that “it’s not a fair war between the attackers and the defenders”. I think we’re talking about different ‘wars’ entirely.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/FragileVessels Peter

    Re “Stiennon predicts that the US government, should it desire, may clamp down on AV vendors in order to deprive likely targets of defensive capabilities.”
     
    There’s an obvious contradiction here. If standard AV is ineffective against the likes of Flame (and I don’t disagree with Hypponen’s assessment), then why would the US bother clamping down on the AV industry, especially as it would hurt American vendors?
     
    Hypponen says that “it’s not a fair war between the attackers and the defenders”. I think we’re talking about different ‘wars’ entirely.