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Communications of the ACM

ACM Opinion

Cyberwar Is Hell


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We’ve been focused on the wrong spies. When 11 Russian sleeper agents were discovered living in the United States—and then sent home in exchange for their counterparts—it was hard to resist the sexy espionage tale with echoes of the Cold War.

But while we’ve fixated on Anna Chapman and her cohorts, top diplomats were working on a wonkier but more important advance in spycraft. This month, experts from 15 countries agreed to begin serious negotiations on establishing international norms on cybersecurity. This story is far more significant in the long run because, without basic agreements about cyberspace, cyberattacks, and even cyberwars could become a daily danger.

Sure, spy stories are irresistible—particularly when a sexy redhead like Chapman is involved and there are plenty of racy photos to titillate readers. It’s also true that the press may have been too quick to write off the Russian sleeper agents as a bunch of bunglers who accomplished nothing. We don’t know what support roles they may have had for more serious operations; human intelligence can still trump electronic spying in many situations, and spying will always be with us.

But, increasingly, international relations will be shaped by new challenges that require new tactics—and new assumptions about where we can and should cooperate, even with former enemies...

From Newsweek
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