The cyber threat to the U.S. continues to escalate. This includes threats from random hackers attempting to break into government and corporate networks as well as foreign nation-states attempting to hack into our nation's military and critical infrastructure. While some of the warnings have been over-the-top dire (a "cyber Pearl Harbor"), it’s clear that America’s top diplomats need to be comfortable with the Internet as a new tool of modern diplomacy in order to combat these threats before they morph into a full-scale cyber-war.
With Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) nominated to be the next Secretary of State, the U.S. has a unique opportunity to embrace what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called “21st century statecraft”. While Kerry is not able to outline his position on cybersecurity until his confirmation hearings, there are a number of signs that the Senator, who is active on social media, would be able to bring a new technological focus to the world of diplomacy. Kerry, like his predecessor Hillary Clinton, appears to be supportive of a host of e-diplomacy initiatives, such as the continuing work of the Office of eDiplomacy. As Mashable’s Alex Fitzpatrick suggests, Kerry’s comfort level on social media is also proof that he is aware of the way that Facebook and Twitter are re-shaping the diplomatic landscape.
If Kerry is confirmed, we might actually get a point person to run and coordinate our diplomatic response to all of the emerging threats from cyberspace, thereby elevating cybersecurity to a higher-level diplomatic issue. Keep in mind that, in 2010, Kerry was one of the leading sponsors of of a bill to create an Ambassador to Cyberspace. As Kerry saw it, the person nominated for this role would have ambassador-at-large status and become the point person for coordinating all of the State Department’s responses to cybersecurity threats, whether on a bilateral or regional basis.
Once we fully acknowledge the growing role that technology can play in modern diplomacy, we may finally be able to use America’s Internet know-how in increasingly sophisticated ways to more quickly track down and defuse cybersecurity threats. The problem with cybersecurity is that we really don’t know who’s out there attempting to break into our nation’s infrastructure or steal sensitive state secrets. It’s like the scene in “Zero Dark Thirty”, when the filmmakers show us that our attempt to hunt down Osama Bin Laden was the work of only a few individuals, working to make sense of jumbled notes and leads, many of them stale for years.
When it comes to cyber-security, what’s needed is some way to bring everything together — all the DDOS attacks and the suspicious break-ins, among other elements — so that government diplomats can determine whether it’s a single hacker acting alone, or a vast, coordinated effort by a nation-state to attack the U.S. One template for such an initiative might be Diplopedia — a State Department-run Wikipedia that has been lauded as one of the best e-diplomatic innovations ever. Using Diplopedia, over 6,000 contributors have created over 17,000 articles, according to a Dec. 19 report in FCW. They have been able to coordinate wide-scale response to problems using the Internet, including the crisis response in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010.
To put a spin on a quote attributed to 19th century soldier and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, “Cyberwarfare is simply cyber-diplomacy conducted by other means.” To win the looming war in cyberspace and avoid a “zero day” attack, we will need diplomats trained in the ways of the Web as much as we will need white-hat hackers.
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