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Is Cyber Space the New War Zone?

Mainstream media has been inundated over the past few weeks with stories related to cyber security, including the claim that the group “Shadow Brokers” will be auctioning off stolen malware from the National Security Agency – malware believed to be as detrimental as Stuxnet, the world’s “first digital weapon.”

In order to find out more regarding the impact of STUXNET, and cyber warfare in general, we spoke to Jon R. Lindsay, Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Global Affairs at the Munk School of Global Affairs, who pointed us to his 2013 paper, “Stuxnet and the Limits of Cyber Warfare.”

In his paper, Lindsay argues: “The influential but largely untested Cyber Revolution thesis holds that the internet gives militarily weaker actors asymmetric advantages, that offense is becoming easier while defense is growing harder, and that the attacker’s anonymity undermines deterrence. However, the empirical facts of Stuxnet support an opposite interpretations; cyber capabilities can marginally enhance the power of stronger over weaker actors, the complexity of weaponization makes cyber offense less easy, and defense more feasible than generally appreciated, and cyber options are most attractive when deterrence is intact.”

Lindsay also gave his thoughts regarding the impact of the “Shadow Brokers” auction on his theory of cyber warfare. “Chances are it is a Russian deception operation, releasing it after three years of reverse engineering. This is still a gray zone conflict below conventional deterrence thresholds. Even if there is an auction, which I doubt, this is an intelligence disaster but not a political catastrophe – probably not even worse than Snowden, though that is still bad. Lots of uncertainty, but it seems consistent with my argument.”

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Victoria Heath
Victoria is the Content Coordinator for Entrepreneurship Programs at MaRS Discovery District. She holds a Master of Global Affairs degree from the University of Toronto, as well as a BA Honors degree from Virginia Tech in Political Science and History. Her primary focus of research is the Middle East - predominantly the Gulf region - which includes examining the intersections of media, business, security, and human rights from a gendered lens. She previously worked as the Publications Editor for the Mackenzie Institute.