The Balance of Cyberpower

As cyberwarfare has become a standard tool of international politics, it is important to recognize that the balance of power among great powers includes a cyber element. The intent of this article is to provide an assessment of the balance of cyberpower. Cyberpower includes computer network exploitation (CNE)—using information technology (IT) to spy on other’s information technology—computer network attacks (CNA), and using information technology to shut down, disrupt, or deny another’s IT. In this article, we consider the capabilities of significant cyberpowers, including the United States, China, and Russia. These are the “cyber superpowers” of contemporary international politics. The cyber capabilities of these states must be conceived of as, in the case of the United States, the equal of its landpower, airpower, or seapower. Moreover, in the cases of China and Russia, their cyberpower is more effective than their conventional capabilities. Furthermore, while not the equal of the three “cyber superpowers,” there are other important actors in cyberspace, including Estonia, France, India, Iran, Israel and North Korea.

U.S. Cyberpower

The United States continues to be the leader in cyber capabilities. This should not be a surprise as it invented the internet and was “present at the creation.” Additionally, the United States has a long history of conducting CNE and manipulating IT to advance its intelligence collection and military objectives. As with the development of the internet, many critical technological developments and capabilities originated in the United States. The classified information leaked by Edward Snowden provided insight into the extensive capabilities of America in both defensive and offensive weapons. This broad array of cyber tools provides policymakers with strategic flexibility and options they did not possess before the dawn of the cyber age. A now classic example is the 2010 United States and Israeli development and execution of Operation Olympic Games, now widely known as the Stuxnet virus. The famed attack caused destruction to Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and delayed their nuclear development process. This was the first, publicly-known instance of a cyber attack causing physical destruction. Indeed, the Stuxnet virus was only the tip of the iceberg. The United States had reportedly executed broader missions that would enable the United States to launch cyber-attacks and cripple many critical systems in Iran. We should expect and anticipate that similar CNA capabilities have been developed for use against the adversaries of the United States. ..Read More..

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