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Playing With (Digital) Fire

Playing With (Digital) Fire

As any fan of martial arts knows, one of the best moves is to take an attacker's weapon and turn it back on them. In 2016, that's just what Beijing did – in cyberspace: after American operatives used a particular bit of code to attack Chinese computer systems, Chinese hackers took it, repurposed it, and used it to attack a bunch of US allies, according to The New York Times.

The technical details of the story are fascinating, but it also raises some big political questions:


If countries can't control their cyber arsenals, can they at least establish some ground rules for how they are used? Avoiding a destructive free-for-all in cyberspace may depend on it. But hacking tools aren't like conventional or nuclear arms, where countries have agreed to enforceable limits on capabilities and behavior. They're invisible, with no real way to count them or verify they've been destroyed, and prone to being stolen.

And despite an ongoing attempt by the US and its allies to deter bad behavior by indicting hackers, imposing sanctions, and even threatening military force in response to malicious cyber-attacks, there's nothing in cyberspace comparable to the doctrine of mutually assured destruction that has helped deter and prevent conflicts between nuclear-armed powers.

Why is that so difficult? For one thing, it's relatively easy to hide your identityor get hired guns to do your bidding in cyberspace – making it hard for the victims of cyber-attacks to be 100 percent confident in targeting their response.

There's also a lot of mischief that state-backed hackers can get up to that is short of outright war, but can still hurt an adversary (think: swiping personal data that can help identify spies or stealing trade secrets). Governments don't want to give those capabilities up. This helps explain why attempts to establish widely agreed, enforceable "cyber norms" have made limited progress, despite 15 years of wrestling with the issue at the UN.

The upshot: We already knew the US was struggling to secure its cyber arsenal. Now we know that just using a cyber weapon means there's a risk it'll be stolen and used by someone else. As more countries gain access to these tools, reaching a basic agreement on rules of behavior will become even more important.

Meet Alessandra Cominetti, a recipient of MIT Technology Review Magazine's Innovators Under 35 award. As a lab technician at Eni's Research Centre for Renewable Energy in Novara, Alessandra has devoted her career to finding new solutions and materials to optimize solar energy. Much like the serendipitous encounter that resulted in her employment, her eagerness and willingness to try new things allowed her to stumble upon a material for the creation of portable solar panels.

Watch her remarkable story on the latest episode of Faces of Eni.

"If [the election] is very close and it ends up in the courts, that kind of protracted situation I think will lead many Americans to believe that it was an unfair election." Rick Hasen, election law expert and author of Election Meltdown, lays out some of the worst-case scenarios for Election Day, ranging from unprecedented voter suppression to dirty tricks by foreign actors. The conversation was part of the latest episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. The episode begins airing nationally in the US on public television this Friday, October 30. Check local listings.

Joe Biden has vowed to radically change the US' approach to foreign policy and international diplomacy should he win next week's election.

But a lot has happened in four years under Donald Trump that could impede Biden's ability to simply return to the status quo ante. How different would US foreign policy really be under a Biden presidency? What will the two-term former vice president likely be able to change, and what's bound to remain the same, at least for now?

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On Wednesday, November 4 at 11a EST, we're gathering a panel to discuss "What Just Happened" with the US election. GZERO Media's Ian Bremmer, Tony Maciulis and Alex Kliment will be joined by The Washington Post's Karen Attiah and Eurasia Group's Jon Lieber. Watch live at: gzeromedia.com/gzerolive.

Decision 2020: What Just Happened? Wednesday, November 4, 11a EST/8a PST

Panelists:

Bookmark this link to watch live: gzeromedia.com/gzerolive

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Jon Lieber, Managing Director for the United States at the Eurasia Group, shares his perspective on a special US election edition of US Politics In 60 Seconds:

So, we're about five days out from the election right now.

And the story of this week has been the remarkably steady polling lead for Joe Biden that he's had for months now. The other big story is the turnout, massive amounts of turnout. 100% of the 2016 vote already cast in Texas. 60% nationwide votes already cast. We are headed for record shattering turnout, could be around 155 million Americans voting.

On election night, what are we watching for?

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