Foreign Policy Blogs

Cybersecurity Bad Guy: America

Jack Goldsmith wrote a provocative op-ed in the Washington Post from Monday suggesting that if Hillary wants to stop cyberattacks across the Internet, she needs to look a bit closer to home. As in, America is a leading cyberbully.

The bulk of the piece is a ridiculous attempt at creating a moral equivalence between America and countries like China.

Goldsmith sees problems on three fronts: 1) botnets on US soil cause DDOSs, 2) American “hacktivists” target foreign organizations and are equally bad, and 3) the Pentagon is the biggest, baddest dog in the junkyard when it comes to information warfare, and needs to be muzzled. Let’s break it down.

  1. He’s right, though I’d be very surprised if the US was indeed the biggest source of bots in the world. Sorry dear readers; I don’t mean to nag, but apply those patches.
  2. Is offensively absurd. If I’m reading the same Internet Freedom speech as Goldsmith, he directly equates Chinese hackers busting into, say, the World Bank with the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, whose primary goal is to help the Chinese get around government censors.
  3. Probably true. I hope all that money is going for something worthwhile at the Pentagon. However, while Goldsmith admits that Cyber Command is not attempting to steal IP or hack dissidents’ email, he is shocked that they are in fact hitting other targets. That difference means the world

Goldsmith sees these issues standing in the way of any significant international agreements on cybersecurity. That may well be true, and points towards some good ideas. Providing a legal infrastructure for making software vendors *cough Microsoft cough* legally culpable for damages from their vulnerable products could turn this around quickly.

The Pentagon and their equivilents in the PLA aren’t about to stop going after each other, though. Virtual spies are no more likely to be effectively stopped than their real-world counterparts. Perhaps Goldsmith thinks we should unilaterally stop and go back to the good old days of “gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.