Steve Blank Technology, Innovation, and Great Power Competition – Class 8 – Cyber


This article first appeared in West Point’s Modern War Institute.

We just completed the eighth week of our new national security class at Stanford – Technology, Innovation and Great Power Competition. Joe Felter, Raj Shah and I designed the class to cover how technology will shape the character and employment of all instruments of national power.

In class 1, we learned that national power is the sum of all the resources available to a state to pursue its national objectives and interests. This power is wielded through a combination of a country’s diplomacy, information, its military capabilities, economic strength, finance, intelligence, and law enforcement. These instruments of national power employed in a “whole government approach” to advance a state’s interests are known by the acronym DIME-FIL.

Class 2 focused on China, the US’s primary great power competitor. China is using all elements of its national power, eg information / intelligence, its military might and economic strength as well as exploiting Western finance and technology. China’s goal is to challenge and overturn the US-led liberal international order and replace it with its own neo-totalitarian model where China emerges as the dominant regional and global power.

The third class focused on Russia, which since 2014 has asserted itself as a competing great power. We learned how Russia pursues security and economic interests in parallel with its ideological aims.

The fourth class shifted our focus to the impact commercial technologies have on the instruments of national power (DIME-FIL). The first technology we examined was semiconductors, and the US dependence on TSMC in Taiwan, for its most advanced logic chips. This is problematic as China claims Taiwan is a province of China.

In the fifth class we examined the impact that AI and Machine Learning will continue to have on the capabilities and employment of DIME-FIL. We heard from the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), the focal point of the DOD AI strategy; and from the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) – a DoD organization that contracts with commercial companies to solve national security problems.

In class six we discussed unmanned systems and autonomy and how the advent of these weapons will change operational concepts and the face of war.

Class seven looked at the Second Space Age, how our military and civilian economy rely on assets in space, and how space is now a contested environment, with China and Russia capable of disabling / destroying our satellites

Today’s class: Cyber

Catch up with the class by reading our intro to the class, and summaries of Classes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 6 and 7

Required readings

Case Study for Class

Competition in Cyber ​​Space

Cyber ​​Attacks / Cyber ​​Warfare

IP & Protected Personal Information Theft

Political Interference

Reading Assignment Questions

Pick one of the below questions and answer in approximately 100 words, based on the required readings. Please note that this assignment will be graded and count towards course participation.

  1. What is the US Cyber ​​Command’s doctrinal approach to competing in the cyber domain? Do you agree with the current doctrine? Why or why not? Would you do anything differently?
  2. Of the different types of cyber threats presented in this week’s readings (cyberattacks, PPI and IP theft, and political interference), which do you think presents the greatest threat to US interests and why? What should the US do to address that threat? Be specific if your recommendations are for the government or private sector.

Class 8 – Guest Speaker

Dr. Michael Sulmeyer is a Senior Adviser, USCYBERCOM (Cyber ​​Command). He was the former Senior Director for Cyber ​​at the National Security Council. The former Cyber ​​Project Director at the Harvard Kennedy School-Belfer Center. He was a past Director, Plans and Operations, for Cyber ​​Policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Previously, he worked on arms control and the maintenance of strategic stability between the United States, Russia, and China.

Cyber ​​Command formed in 2010 and is one of the eleven unified combatant commands of the United States Department of Defense. It’s commanded by a four-star general, General Paul Nakasone who is also the director of the National Security Agency and chief of the Central Security Service. It has three main missions: (1) defending the DoD information systems, (2) supporting joint force commanders with cyberspace operations, and (3) defending the nation from significant cyberattacks.

Dr. Sulmeyer has written, “A focus on cyber-deterrence is understandable but misplaced. Deterrence aims to change the calculations of adversaries by persuading them that the risks of an attack outweigh the rewards or that they will be denied the benefits they seek. But in seeking merely to deter enemies, the United States finds itself constantly on the back foot. Instead, the United States should be pursuing a more active cyberpolicy, one aimed not at deterring enemies but at disrupting their capabilities. In cyberwarfare, Washington should recognize that the best defense is a good offense.

In countries where technology companies are willing to cooperate with the US government (or with requests from their own government), a phone call to the right cloud provider or Internet service provider (ISP) could result in getting bad actors kicked off the Internet.

US hackers could pursue a campaign of erasing computers at scale, disabling accounts and credentials used by hackers to attack, and cutting off access to services so it is harder to compromise innocent systems to conduct their attacks. ”

Our national defense cyber policy has now moved to “persistent engagement.” Defending forward as close as possible to the origin of adversary activity extends our reach to expose adversaries’ weaknesses, learn their intentions and capabilities, and counter attacks close to their origins. Continuous engagement imposes tactical friction and strategic costs on our adversaries, compelling them to shift resources to defense and reduce attacks. We will pursue attackers across networks and systems to render most malicious cyber and cyber-enabled activity inconsequential while achieving greater freedom of maneuver to counter and contest dangerous adversary activity before it impairs our national power.

Lecture 8

If you can’t see the lecture 8 slides click here.

Lessons Learned

  • Cyber ​​Command’s role is to:
    • defend the DoD information systems
    • support joint force commanders with cyberspace operations, and
    • defend the nation from significant cyberattacks
  • Cyber ​​Command has evolved from a reactive, defensive posture to a proactive posture called “persistent engagement”

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