Though lacking in a compelling character, or a captivating plot, The Perfect Weapon may be one of the most important, if chilling, books you'll read this year. I was a colleague in the paper's Washington bureau for a brief period when I was working there. The message is alarming.
He goes on that cyber weapons have the capability to "fry power grids, stop trains, silence cellphones, and overwhelm the internet". If these doomsday scenarios are the future, the future is now. In large part owing to the reporting by Sanger and his colleagues, it is well-known that the US and Israel planted a computer virus, known by the code name "Stuxnet", into Iran's nuclear facilities, causing centrifuges to spin out of control, and setting back its nuclear program for years.
Russia resorted to cyber war in Ukraine, as part of its conventional invasion.
And, of course, Russia used cyber weapons to influence the most recent US presidential election, as well as the Brexit vote. How else to explain that in , "North Korea's missiles started falling out of the sky", as Sanger puts it. It might be hard not to applaud any program that disables missiles in the hands of Kim Jong-un. But what are the rules here?
Cyber Is the Perfect Weapon
If the US dropped bombs to knock out North Korea's missiles, it would be considered an act of war. In , Russian chief of the general staff Valery Gerasimov described a doctrine for hybrid warfare that blends conventional weapons, economic coercion, information operations and cyberattacks. The use of information to confuse and divide an enemy was widely practised during the Cold War.
What is new is not the basic model, but the high speed and low cost of spreading disinformation. Electrons are faster, cheaper, safer and more deniable than spies carrying around bags of money and secrets. Not only did Russian intelligence agencies hack into the email of the Democratic National Committee and dribble out the results through WikiLeaks and other outlets to shape the American news agenda; they also used US-based social-media platforms to spread false news and galvanise opposing groups of Americans.
Hacking is illegal, but using social media to sow confusion is not. The brilliance of the Russian innovation in information warfare was to combine existing technologies with a degree of deniability that remained just below the threshold of overt attack.
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US intelligence agencies alerted President Barack Obama of the Russian tactics, and he warned Putin of adverse consequences when the two met in September But Obama was reluctant to call out Russia publicly or to take strong actions for fear that Russia would escalate by attacking election machinery or voting rolls and jeopardise the expected victory of Hillary Clinton. After the election, Obama went public and expelled Russian spies and closed some diplomatic facilities, but the weakness of the US response undercut any deterrent effect.
And because President Donald Trump has treated the issue as a political challenge to the legitimacy of his victory, his administration also failed to take strong steps. Johnny Guitar. Universal Soldier.
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