Whenever somebody uses the phrase "cyber war" to talk about a pair of Russian teenagers unleashing a computer worm on the world just to prove that they can do it, much clapping abounds at both the National Security Agency and defense contractors' offices, reminds Seymour Hersh:
Cyber security is a major growth industry, and warnings from [fromer White House national security aide Richard] Clarke, [Bush-era director of National Intelligence J. Michael] McConnell, and others have helped to create what has become a military-cyber complex. The federal government currently spends between six and seven billion dollars annually for unclassified cyber-security work, and, it is estimated, an equal amount on the classified portion. In July, the Washington Post published a critical assessment of the unchecked growth of government intelligence agencies and private contractors. Benjamin Powell, who served as general counsel for three directors of the Office of National Intelligence, was quoted as saying of the cyber-security sector, “Sometimes there was an unfortunate attitude of bring your knives, your guns, your fists, and be fully prepared to defend your turf… . Because it’s funded, it’s hot and it’s sexy.”
NSA and others in the defense and intelligence worlds are eager to militarize the Internet space. Them upping the scariness of the cyber threats facing the country is one way to do it. That helps to consolidate power over all things cyber inside that wing of government, and it also helps grease the flow of government funds to contractors. That's not to say that there aren't people trying to hurt the U.S. using computers. Hersh tells a scary tale of how China reverse-engineered a downed American reconnaissance plane, requiring an overhaul of operating systems all over the Navy. Still, that's not quite combat. But advocating for smart "digital asset management" isn't going to get the military-cyber complex money and power nearly as quickly as talking about war.
-- Nancy Scola