The Darkening Web: The War for Cyberspace; Understanding Cyber Conflict: Fourteen Analogies

In This Review

The Darkening Web: The War for Cyberspace
By Alexander Klimburg
Penguin Press, 2017
432 pp.
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Understanding Cyber Conflict: Fourteen Analogies
By George Perkovich, Ariel E. Levite, Eds.
Georgetown University Press, 2017
304 pp.
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The rapid development of the Internet has created a new form of conflict, one that is often touted as transformational. Almost every online transaction, however routine and innocent, has the potential to become part of an unseen maneuver to cause mischief, steal money, bring down vital infrastructure, or subvert a government. But it is difficult to take the measure of cyberconflict, because it is now part of every other form of conflict; it affects everything while deciding very little on its own, at least thus far. One merit of Klimburg’s book is his description of the many layers of the Internet, their vulnerabilities, and the governance problems they pose, although the book’s profusion of acronyms can be overwhelming. The essential portrait of cyberspace that emerges is of a stateless global good being ruthlessly exploited by states, especially for the purpose of reshaping the way people think; some of the strongest sections focus on Russia, an innovator in such activity.

Perkovich and Levite’s volume explores the issue of cyberconflict through analogies to conventional forms of violence—a potentially misleading approach, as the editors acknowledge, but one they nonetheless successfully adopt to explore what is genuinely distinctive about the digital domain. They have assembled a first-rate cast of contributors to investigate the cyberspace dimension of areas such as nonlethal weapons, drones, preemption, surprise attacks, and economic warfare. In overt warfare, the effects of digital tools have become much clearer in recent years. The real difficulty now lies in sorting out what is taking place in covert forms of conflict, where cyberattacks are easy to mount but hard to attribute to any particular actor. Because those attacks have thus far been nonviolent and because the legal framework is murky, victims’ responses have been hesitant. Witness, for example, Washington’s tentative reaction to Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.