The Perfect Weapon
War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age
David E. Sanger
Crown, New York, 2018, 384 pages
Book Review published on: August 13, 2021
The technological race between adversaries has been around since the dawn of humanity. Warcraft has evolved from rocks and sticks to guns and missiles. The emergence of computers meshed with weaponry marked one of greatest leaps in precision and lethality. David E. Sanger highlights recent challenges in the realm of cyberwarfare in his book The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age. Sanger’s monograph thoroughly explores the technological, political, and civil issues resulting from increased cyber operations and implementations.
Operation Olympic Games is one of the first case studies Sanger highlights in The Perfect Weapon. According to Sanger, Olympic Games was an alternative offensive operation the United States used to prevent increasing Israeli hostilities toward Iran’s nuclear program. The computer worm Stuxnet manipulated the timing in the centrifuges and overloaded Iran’s system, and the Iranian nuclear program sustained a major setback as a result of the attack. The Stuxnet attack was not only effective, but it also hid the identity of the attacker. Operation Olympic Games displayed how effective an attack could be with the added bonus of nonattribution.
The interaction of the public and private domains is one of the fascinating aspects of The Perfect Weapon. The cyber domain represents a convergence of private, public, state, and nonstate actors. Not only is there a convergence of actors but also a convergence of philosophy and ethics. Civil rights is continually a focus in the cyber domain. The United States is charged with upholding the Constitution with its Bill of Rights for its citizens. However, national governments in other countries do not recognize those same rights. For example, the Chinese culture generally views intellectual property as the property of the people rather of an individual. It is a collective philosophy as opposed to that of the individual. Therefore, the world has seen one of the greatest shifts in intellectual property wealth redistribution to China from state and nonstate actors by intellectual property acquisition (theft) over the internet.
The clash of “rights” and philosophy of ethics between cultures presents another fascinating issue highlighted in The Perfect Weapon. Sanger recounts the events that led to the 2014 Sony hack by North Korean state and nonstate actors, and how the United States treated the attack. In 2014, Sony Pictures prepared to release the movie The Interview to theaters. The movie was a fictional story of two journalists (Seth Rogen and James Franco) who were asked by the Central Intelligence Agency to assassinate Kim Jong Un. The North Korean government viewed the movie as an assault and threatened retaliation if the movie was released.
The situation represented a new convergence of a private company against a nation state. Sony was supported by the United States, but the conflict was set between Sony and North Korea. Under the advisement of the Obama administration, Sony released the movie in limited venues and over Netflix, making it one of the first major-budget films with a home-movie release. As promised, North Korea infiltrated Sony’s cyber infrastructure and either deleted or destroyed multiple files that resulted in damages estimated to be between $15 million and $35 million. President Barack Obama referred to the attack as “cyber vandalism” instead of an attack to prevent further escalation in hostilities between the nations.
Sanger’s thorough exploration into recent and emerging cyber issues falls short of discussing how these challenges affect humanity’s future treatment of rights. Obama used “cyber vandalism” to prevent escalating hostilities, but what precedence did it set for private citizens? If a nation-state actor arrived at our doorstep, broke into our home, and began lighting our possessions on fire, would we have the right to stop them or retaliate? Traditionally, individual citizens take on a personal responsibility to protect themselves, their property, and those of their neighbor. It appears the U.S. government would rather citizens yield to aggressors rather than establish a deterrent through offensive action.
In summary, Sanger explores many issues in the emerging cyber domain. The convergence of philosophy, culture, and ethics is at the forefront of the developing environment. Competition in the cyber domain between nation states and nonstate actors has spilled into the private domain, where new challenges present themselves. Further evaluation into the legal ramifications of the U.S. government’s posture for citizens should be pursued.
Book Review written by: Maj. Brooks Demmer, U.S. Army, Fort Knox, Kentucky