December 19 2012
This commentary appeared in The International Economy on December 1, 2012.
The Cold War was, in large part, about weapons of mass destruction. Today's hand-wringing over the villainies certain to visit us in cyberspace is primarily about weapons of mass distraction.
Despite nearly twenty years of predictions, the total physical damage from cyberattacks so far has been low compared even to the smallest of real wars. No one has died. Very little machinery has been broken. One exception, Stuxnet, was a concentrated effort by first-rate cyber powers focused on a nuclear enrichment facility managed by a third-rate industrial power (Iran) with scant mastery of the process, a jerry-rigged collection of blackand gray-market parts, and very little help from the outside world. Extrapolating such limited success (80 percent of the centrifuges survived the attack) into a Cold War II is more than a bit of a stretch. What appear to have been revenge attacks against U.S. banks in September deprived bank customers of online access—an annoyance, to be sure—but the perpetrators have not managed to penetrate banking systems or challenge the integrity of the financial system. This kind of war we can survive easily.