Tag Archives: cybersecurity

Recent writing: Obama–Xi summit and picking your cyber fights

(1) Before President Barack Obama traveled to Beijing this month, I made a short contribution to a conversation at Asia Society’s ChinaFile, calling for President Xi Jinping and Obama to get down to the hard strategic questions. In part, I argue:

Xi and Obama should start by recognizing some facts. First, the rise of China is an important factor in changing global power dynamics, and this effect can’t be stopped or “contained.” Second, the U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific promotes stability, and U.S. commitment to global norms and the security of its allies will not evaporate. Third, despite deep economic integration and strong common interests in peace and prosperity, a dangerous dynamic of political and military competition between China and the United States and U.S. allies is now evident in the region. [more]

(2) After Obama moved on from Beijing to Myanmar and Australia for other meetings, I gave a tentative but positive assessment of what Obama and Xi achieved in Beijing. Writing for the Nikkei Asian Review, I argued in part:

The U.S. and Chinese governments made a big splash this week with a joint announcement on efforts to combat climate change that surprised even the most optimistic observers. But the overall significance of President Barack Obama’s visit to Beijing for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and a state visit with President Xi Jinping is still in question — as is the outcome of Obama’s trip to the region.

The climate announcement and other new efforts produced an upbeat moment in U.S.-China relations at a time when mutual suspicion and negativity have been on the rise in both capitals. Now the question is what progress was made, and whether this will be enough to establish a “new normal” in bilateral relations. [more]

(3) Most provocatively, I argued in The Diplomat that the U.S. government has committed itself to the wrong cyber fight with China with its emphasis on commercial spying. Instead, I write, the United States and China urgently need to address the rising risk of strategic conflict online—and deal with commercial disputes in other forums.

Since 2013, the Obama administration has publicly pressed China on one particular cybersecurity problem: the alleged theft of U.S. trade secrets by units of the Chinese government for the benefit of Chinese firms. The pressure, which administration officials said will continue at this week’s Obama-Xi summit in Beijing, has produced no significant results and has stalled dialogue on a much more dangerous aspect of cybersecurity: the quiet arms race to develop the ability to disrupt critical computer systems, potentially leading to chaos and civilian deaths. [more]

Real progress on U.S.–China cybersecurity means facing core differences

New at China-US Focus, I argue that there is real potential for progress on cybersecurity in the U.S.–China relationship, but basic differences in the way the governments and peoples view the Internet cannot be brushed aside.

Probe Deep Differences to Make Real Progress on Cybersecurity

In a U.S.–China relationship confronting numerous challenges, perhaps no topic is as hard to discuss as cybersecurity. Unlike other strategic challenges, such as minimizing the potential for inadvertent clashes at sea or in the air, smoothing bilateral economic investment regulations, or even reducing the severity and effects of climate change, cybersecurity cuts across policy areas with a blade of uncertainty and mutual suspicion. Some observers have suggested U.S.–China differences are so deep that dialogue is futile, but even if it doesn’t produce a swift resolution, a recent increase in public and private discussions on the topic can build a foundation of understanding.

[Continue reading.]

A call to think more carefully about who’s behind cyber attacks, by me at Al Jazeera

My latest for Al Jazeera English asks for more recognition of pluralism and ambiguity when governments and firms accuse “China” or the “Chinese government” of hacking.Check it out!

For fun, my first piece for Al Jazeera fought the notion of a “cyber cold war” between the United States and China. In 2011.

[Crossposted on gwbstr.com]

Benkler on Anonymous and why the ‘threat’ frame fails

Yochai Benkler, the legal and political scholar of the internet best known for writing The Wealth of Networks, offers a refreshing view of Anonymous, the group organization movement… well, I’ll let Benkler describe it:

Anonymous is not an organization. It is an idea, a zeitgeist, coupled with a set of social and technical practices. Diffuse and leaderless, its driving force is “lulz” — irreverence, playfulness, and spectacle. It is also a protest movement, inspiring action both on and off the Internet, that seeks to contest the abuse of power by governments and corporations and promote transparency in politics and business. Just as the antiwar movement had its bomb-throwing radicals, online hacktivists organizing under the banner of Anonymous sometimes cross the boundaries of legitimate protest. But a fearful overreaction to Anonymous poses a greater threat to freedom of expression, creativity, and innovation than any threat posed by the disruptions themselves.

Benkler argues that the view from parts of the U.S. government that Anonymous is a threat, and the tendency of journalists and others to use the language of extremists or terrorists in describing it, presents a misleading frame.

‘Seeing Anonymous primarily as a cybersecurity threat is like analyzing the breadth of the antiwar movement and 1960s counterculture by focusing only on the Weathermen.’

Instead, he argues, Anonymous should be understood in the context of protest: against online regulations that threaten an open internet (such as ACTA), against authoritarian regimes under attack in the “Arab Spring,” and just recently against more stable authoritarian governments such as that of the People’s Republic of China.

Seen as a protest phenomenon, Anonymous then needs to be assessed in the view of the yet undecided limits of legitimate protest online. Benkler notes what Charles Tilly et al. might call a repertoire of contention:

Four techniques constitute the bulk of its direct actions:

  • distributed denial of service attacks;
  • document disclosures;
  • defacement of Web sites;
  • and non-cyber action, ranging from pranks, such as sending targets unwanted pizza deliveries, to street protests.

This is a fairly novel collection of tactics from the perspective of the study of contentious politics, but then Anonymous (neither an organization nor really a movement, etc.) doesn’t nicely fit the popular models of a contentious actor. Perhaps individual incidents have somewhat coherent actors with specific claims against governments or other powers, but the thing we call Anonymous is not discrete, well bounded, or persistent.

I’m not sure what Benkler would think of this tie to contention, but these activities have a lot in common with contention, which raises several questions:

Political scientists and sociologists who study contention often spend a lot of time analyzing trust among people engaging in protest or contention together. Anonymous, with its distributed, decentralized, and indeed largely anonymous mode of practice would seem to present a puzzle. How do people gain each other’s trust to collaborate? How do they calm fears of infiltration by government authorities (who often treat the group as a high-priority criminal network)?

Perhaps my biggest question is: What if anything of substance have people working under the Anonymous banner gained in terms of desired change in government or corporate action? Even asking this question raises the question of what the people concerned wish to accomplish, and I’m not sure there’s an answer. But if Anonymous is imagined as part of a distributed, uncoordinated contentious action, it can contribute to a variety of causes—even potentially opposing ones. Especially with data disclosures, Anonymous can help fuel other forms of contention: documents they release can be used to make claims and demand change, whether in agreement or disagreement with the original hackers.

If the contentious politics framework offers anything, it’s a non-threat narrative that allows governments and others to view Anonymous as opposed to some government action but not in the same way as terrorists.

Read Benkler’s full article at Foreign Affairs.