The age of cyber-warfare has arrived. That, at any rate, is the message we are now hearing from a broad range of journalists, policy analysts, and government officials. Introducing a comprehensive White House report on cyber-security released at the end of May, President Obama called cyber-security “one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation.” His words echo a flurry of gloomy think-tank reports. The Defense Science Board, a federal advisory group, recently warned that “cyber-warfare is here to stay,” and that it will “encompass not only military attacks but also civilian commercial systems.” And “Securing Cyberspace for the 44th President,” prepared by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, suggests that cyber-security is as great a concern as “weapons of mass destruction or global jihad.”
Unfortunately, these reports are usually richer in vivid metaphor—with fears of “digital Pearl Harbors” and “cyber-Katrinas”—than in factual foundation.
Consider a frequently quoted CIA claim about using the Internet to cause widespread power outages. It derives from a public presentation by a senior CIA cyber-security analyst in early 2008. Here is what he said: