Cyber-coercion: the new black?

by Chris Zappone

While real military action remains a threat, particularly amid the military adventurism of relevant coast guards and navies around the East China Sea and South China Sea, another large trait in this region is coercion. I found it notable that Australia, in laying out its public defense strategy, cited a freedom from coercion as a goal.

And yet in the world of cyber actions, coercion is everything. Just look at the Syrian Electronic Army. In the weeks around the time of the chemical weapon use, the SEA was active in knocking off line the Washington Post and New York Times – two of the most influential newspapers for American decision makers.

While it’s debatable the SEA’s actions were crucial or even central to the US decision to decline involvement, from the perspective of the SEA, or whoever supports the SEA (Iran, Russia?), the strategy of interrupting US media outlets must look effective. It sent a message not just to policymakers, but the public, which drove home the importance to policy makers.

Is interrupting the business of the NYTimes and Washington Post an act of war? No, probably not. Is it an act of psychological warfare? Probably in a certain sense. Probably yes. A kind of leaflet drop. Or demonstration of firepower.

But again, effectively it’s an irritation, and it fails to rise to the level of aggression. This is an example why resiliency is a preferable strategy for cyberdefense. It’s scaled. There is no need to go nuclear and choose targets in the mist to fire back at.