Why democracies lose in cyber-warfare


Cyber confrontation is asymmetrical, not because democracies are at a technological disadvantage (the U.S. is among the world’s leaders in the technologies needed to wage cyberwars), but because a state like Russia is able to exploit the weak points of democratic polities, analyst Moisés Naím writes for The Atlantic:

What made America uniquely susceptible to the attack from an authoritarian Russia is emblematic of what makes other democracies particularly vulnerable, relative to their authoritarian counterparts, to political cyberattack. For one thing, the 2016 election attack targeted the democratic process itself. In the words of the intelligence community’s January 2017 report on the incident, the hacks and leaks worked to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.” They aimed to take advantage of the free flow of information in a democratic society, the effect of that information on public opinion, and the electoral mechanisms through which public opinion determines a country’s leadership.

Russians trying to tip politics

Europeans have long been the targets of the Kremlin’s hacking and disinformation campaigns, adds a new report, citing many examples of the “Russians trying to tip politics their way across Europe.”

“What is particularly alarming about these Russian cybertactics is the fact that Russia is ‘the only country to date to have combined cyberwarfare with assaults by conventional guns and tanks,’” the report notes.

Cyber attacks pose a serious threat to democratic institutions, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center:

EPIC is launching a project that will study the relationship between democratic institutions and cybersecurity policy…The EPIC Project will examine three key areas: election integrity, foreign interference with democratic decision-making, and cyber policy…. EPIC also filed two Freedom of Information Act lawsuits to obtain information about the extent of Russian interference with the 2016 Presidential Election… As part of the project, EPIC will be honoring former world chess champion and pro-democracy reformer Garry Kasparov (left) on June 5 at the National Press Club.

“Our effort is intended to focus greater attention on the specific threat to democratic institutions,” said EPIC Policy Director Caitriona Fitzgerald.

“Why haven’t Western democracies made the necessary reforms to adapt to the threat? Why have they let countries like Russia get the upper hand, not in capabilities, but in practice?” asks Naím, a former board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group:

One answer is that democracies, by their very nature, hinge on checks and balances that limit the concentration of power and slow down governmental decision-making. While all bureaucracies, including those of authoritarian regimes, are slow-moving, Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping surely are less encumbered by their laws and institutional constrains than their democratic counterparts.


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