Countering Cyberattacks: Name and Shame and Leave

There you are, minding your business as a nation state when Iranian geeks hack the networks of hundreds of your universities, rip off more than $3 billion worth of research AND leak the latest season of Game of Thrones. If you’re Washington, you respond by issuing felony charges and financial sanctions against the Iranian hackers and…


Wait, that’s it? Surely the US has the capability to inflict significant damage on state and non-state actors alike in cyberspace. But when it comes down to it, as my pal Kevin Allison explains, it’s harder for the US to pull the cyber-trigger than you’d think.

First, there’s no Geneva Convention for cyberspace at the moment. Without global agreement on the distinction between online behavior that is merely bad and what’s truly unacceptable, it’s difficult to determine proportionality in the cyber realm. Does large scale IP theft, for example, demand the same response as hacks or disruptions of critical infrastructure?

Second, unlike, say, lobbing a few cruise missiles at an airbase, cyberattacks and counter-attacks don’t have a neat geography. If those Iranians used servers in Dubai, does striking back at them entail an attack on Iran or on the UAE? Abu Dhabi will be keenly interested in your answer.

Third, cyberattacks are tough to control with precision. If your counterattack spreads beyond its intended target, it can cause collateral damage — including to friends and allies.

So while the US certainly could inflict an awful lot of pain on the Iranians, or any other cyber-attackers, hackers, or crypto-unsavories, the reality is that in most cases doing so is a lot messier and riskier than it seems.

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Well, this may seem like a minor deal. It's a video sharing app that the president has given 45 days to sell to a US entity or get banned in the United States. But along with WeChat, these are two of China's most successful technology companies that the US has now banned from entry into the United States and potentially banned from being used on operating systems that rely on US software inside China. So, this is a huge escalation in the geotech war between the United States and China. China for a long time has not allowed Google and Facebook and other American applications to be fully operative inside their borders. And now the US is stepping up against Chinese technology companies. The reason is that there's concerns among the US government about these tech, these apps data security practices. Members of the military, high ranking government officials aren't allowed to have these on their phones because there's concern about what China does with the data that they can harvest from those phones. This is a real warning sign to other Chinese technology companies that they may not be welcome inside the American market unless they can prove in some way, they are totally independent from the Chinese government and the Chinese military. Expect a lot of escalation in this area over the coming months and years.

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In a new interview with Ian Bremmer for GZERO World, former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden says that the single most important step to reopening schools in the fall is to control infection in the community. But as of now, too many communities across the United States have lost control of the Covid-19 virus. Opening schools will only become a possibility once a majority of people start practicing the "Three 'W's" ("Wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance") and local and federal governments enforce stricter protective policies. The full episode of GZERO World begins airing on US public television on Friday, August 7, 2020. Check local listings.