The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage and Fear in the Cyber Age, David E. Sanger

Hello wonderful nerds,

I have another nonfiction review for you! The Perfect Weapon was written by veteran New York Times security and technology reporter David E. Sanger. I’ve read a number of his articles over the years (NYT is one of my favourite news sources), and always found them well-researched and, just as importantly, well-written!

When I found out that Scribe was publishing David’s new book and that the topic was cyber warfare, I performed the mental equivalent of a tumbling pass. I love when journalists write books that either contain or are about security and technology because not only do you learn something, but journalists actually know how to write so the books are a pleasure to read.

What David Sanger has produced here is a really excellent overview of the geopolitical, geostrategic implications of the increasing parties to cyber conflict and the capabilities to which they have access. Now, most of the book is about the implications of State use of cyber exploitation and attack capabilities or about States being victim to such and there are a lot of people who would argue that States aren’t the be-all and end-all in cyberspace. Those people would be right, to an extent, but it is also the case that States are still the parties in cyberspace that have the legal monopoly over violence and, if pressed, have kinetic alternatives to cyber force in the event that cyber attacks fail to achieve the desired end. This means that States remain one of, if not the most important category of actor in the growing domain of cyber warfare, and they are likely to hold the position for some time yet.

The book itself is extremely well structured; the cases explored revolve around the United States of America as a matter of course (David is American and his specialty as a NYTimes reporter is security of/surrounding the U.S.) but give a thorough analysis of the perceived intent and goals of the opponents in each case. He also lays out, succinctly and coherently, the general threatscape with which States are currently trying deal as concerns cyberspace. There is no longer any actor in the international system today that is capable of laying constraints on cyber action: while the United States may once have enjoyed superiority in cyberspace that day is long past. States such as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea have ample capacity to utilize cyberspace as the threat and force multiplier that it is, and all of these States are also perfectly (and observably!) capable of employing cyberspace as an intelligence-rich domain. I have been saying for years, as have many scholars and experts, that cyberspace is an offensively-advantaged domain and that the opportunity cost of cyber attack is incredibly low relative to kinetic attack options. This hasn’t changed. In fact, according to The Perfect Weapon, that is actually more evident today than it has ever been. General Nakasone, newly-minted head of NSA and Cyber Command, stated in his confirmation hearing that in cyberspace, the United States of America is not feared. This has serious implications for the attractiveness of the US as a target of malicious actors in cyberspace: they know that there will be little, if any, blowback for cyber attacks. Because there hasn’t been previously: cyber defense is a lot more difficult, and more expensive, than cyber offense and that is evident in the volume and strength of cyber attacks that States endure every single day.

I found The Perfect Weapon to be incredibly well-written. The analysis of the cyber situation the US finds itself in was sound and, insofar as is possible within the length of a single book, both in-depth and detailed. I very much enjoyed reading it and look forward to anything else the David E. Sanger publishes in future. I can already so this book being useful in my own research and doctoral thesis.

Five star read, people!


Image credits: Inset image was taken by me; feature image is from the publisher’s page for this title.

Disclaimer: Scribe Publications was kind enough to send me this copy for review. As ever, the provenance of a title makes no difference to my opinion of the content.

Categories: Technology

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