How Cyberspace is Transforming International Security

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Derek Reveron – Faculty Affiliate, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School and Professor of National Security, Naval War College. Reveron teaches Cyberspace and International Security at Harvard Extension School. In this Q&A, he helps illuminate the complex topic of his course and career.

In an era when we live so many aspects of our lives online—from sharing details on social networks to managing our finances—our privacy and identity have become increasingly vulnerable. But such vulnerabilities reside within the confines of our private, civilian lives.

What’s at stake when nations turn to cyberspace to display aggression, compromise intelligence, or threaten adversaries?

The high-profile hacks of recent years—Sony, the Democratic National Committee—and the recent “distributed denial of service” attack have brought cyber security to the fore in national and international security circles. In the following interview, Professor Reveron explains the concept of national security, intelligence, and war in the age of cyberspace. His responses reflect his personal opinions, not those of the Belfer Center or the Naval War College.

Traditionally, national and international security have resided in physical domains: land, sea, and air. But the virtual world today has altered that landscape significantly. What are some security challenges that arise in the “borderless” realm of cyberspace?

Fundamentally, cyberspace is a civilian space, and it’s a human construct. One of the key differences between, say, land borders and cyberspace is that cyberspace is always changing. It’s potentially infinite because more networks, more devices, and more users are constantly being added. All that is contracting the world where someone in Cambridge, Massachusetts can directly engage with government officials in Canberra, Australia.

There’s another difference. We are historically, legally, and culturally comfortable with national governments protecting airspace, and land borders and sea boundaries.

Cyber challenges the traditional national security divide: federal government is responsible for international challenges, and state and local governments are responsible for domestic ones. The Department of Defense is responsible for .mil. The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for .gov. But we all live in .com. And there’s no equivalent to city or state police to protect us there.

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