“The Hacked World Order” by Adam Segal, director of the program on digital and cyberspace policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, was published in the early 2016 and is one of the latest attempts to cover all the events in the cyber domain. This is an extremely ambitious task executed by one of the best professionals in the area. “The Hacked World Order” can be even seen as a contemporary history textbook of how cyberspace has evolved over the last decade or so.
“The Hacked World Order” by Adam Segal, director of the program on digital and cyberspace policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, was published in the early 2016 and is one of the latest attempts to cover all the events in the cyber domain. This is an extremely ambitious task executed by one of the best professionals in the area. Segal breaks up his narrative into several chapters, which taken together simultaneously constitute the pillars and sore points of what he calls the “hacked world order.” This book – though not perfect in all aspects – is a solid beginning of what should become an international academic practice – defining cybersecurity and bringing together experiences and young professionals in this ever growing and changing part of the international relations (IR). In view of recent upheaval in cyber attacks and transnational hacks of companies, banks, organizations, and public websites, this book raises a host of problems, spurring discussion on what solutions can be found to unite countries, as well as public, expert and academic milieu in this particular and very specific area of IR.
“The Hacked World Order” can be even seen as a contemporary history textbook of how cyberspace has evolved over the last decade or so. In the early 2000s, cyber barely existed as a separate topic in the IR discourse. The issue was acknowledged as important in the US political establishment and some European countries, especially relatively small ones (Estonia and Finland), but never put on top of the political agenda. This changed dramatically in the early 2010s, when the world saw rapidly emerging technologies and some great cyber offensives were carried out (Stuxnet crowning the list). The US has remained the leader in tech capabilities and military expenditures; however, Washington will not be able to hold all the leverage in this domain with such cyber players as China, India, Brazil and Russia in the bigger picture. The Snowden revelations marred the US image of the guardian of a free and open Internet for a long time, if not forever. This means that US has to make a solid and sincere effort in regaining the trust and respect of its closest allies and other partners. So, as author rightly notes, the main focus should be not on individual success stories, when a young man hacked a bank and proved the system wrong, but on great powers, which are becoming major cyber actors and need to establish rules of the game.
When Chaos is Order
The Hacked World Order
Even though the book’s title is “The Hacked World Order”, it is not about order per se as about the chaos that cyber is and disorder it brings into the world politics we are used to know. Though cyber does not (yet) constitute a prominent domain in the relations between countries – most state visits and high level discussions on cyber end with non-binding declarations – in the coming 20-50 years this is bound to change. As Segal puts it, in cyber a lot depends on uncertainty and unpredictability, or “zero days,” when a country/company/bank/organization is under attack by unknown malware and the sufferers have literally zero days to fix it or build a more or less strong defense. The first major “zero day” happened in 2010 in Natanz, Iran. The US and Israel allegedly cooperated on creating a bug which was powerful enough to bring down some of the main centrifuges in Iranian nuclear facility. This is crucial because before Stuxnet malware had been used solely to steal or destroy data. This was the first “zero day” and many – though not as powerful as this one yet – followed suit in the years to come.
Cyber is the very essence of disorder in the world of IR. But in chaos one can also find order. Segal tries to define what a strong and confident player in this domain might look like in the second chapter of the book “The Anatomy of Cyber Power.” Here the author establishes criteria, which are almost priceless in the cyberspace since it is defined for a real cyber power. There are five bullets on the list: the size of the country (i.e. economic and tech power, not only the geographical vastness), level of intimacy between public and private sectors within a given country, rapidness and savvy of the military and intelligence agencies, and attractiveness of the cyber narrative each country creates. According to the author, only the US and China manage to live up to all five, leaving Israel, Germany, France, and Russia running slightly behind.
What the author is infinitely right about is that cyber relies greatly on the level of national tech and innovation development. Therefore, one of the most interesting points discussed by Segal are the models of tech competition. These are Silicon Valley (individual innovation and entrepreneurship), Beijing (government sets the goals), and Brussels (all is done for the social welfare of the nation). Of course, a model is a model and it never exists in its pure form, but the division is worth discussion, especially for those countries which lag behind the innovation and technological development of the West.
Even within political establishment of a given country political leaders and advisers fail to work out a common language and vocabulary for cyber events.
Though not very accentuated throughout the narrative, the author still pays attention to the inevitable necessity of establishing an international framework of rules for governments and prominent players in the cyberspace. This would allow at least some predictability in actors’ behavior amidst a possible cyber conflict and in its aftermath. Strangely enough – this could be the traditional American perception of the situation – the role of the UN and other international organizations is somewhat omitted or tuned down in the book. This is a significant misunderstanding since countries have failed to settle on creating a separate organization to govern cyber matters so they are left to work with what they already have – the UN framework.
NATO’s Cyber Defense Evolution
Another point that characterizes the chaotic nature of the cyber world is that even within political establishment of a given country political leaders and advisers fail to work out a common language and vocabulary for cyber events. As Segal notes, some might call a cyber hack “an act of war,” others – “vandalism.” And this concerns the US, the most cyber developed country where politicians are paranoid about national cybersecurity. Such a gap in political oral expression will soon become inadmissible since it reveals that leaders do not have the slightest idea of how to react to cyber incidents (even in such cyber developed countries as the US).
Segal draws quite a vivid picture of how countries try to bend the Internet and social media in their favor. Here the author analyses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how it resonated on Twitter. Countries, such as Israel, Russia and China, strive to create a simulacra of reality that their governments want other to see online, which is a disturbing spinoff of the constructivist theory of IR.
More about Problems than Solutions
An international order in cyber is now only coming to light; there is no structure, no concrete rules but already countries are wise enough to realize that there should be no resort to hard power in a cyber conflict.
Segal makes a tremendous attempt in this book to gather all that worries and bugs world players – especially states – in the cyber domain. Each chapter covers a separate topic that has become a nuisance for cyber powers in the international arena – from major cyber hacks allegedly orchestrated by certain non-liberal democracies to big data storage and internal relations between public and private sectors – and how countries, mainly the US, deal with the new emerging order. However, the impression that lingers on throughout the reading is that the author highlights the issues and sore points of the cyberspace but does not outline the remedy for each and every problem. True, the last chapter states that the US will no longer be the sole ruler of the cyberspace and the internet because the former is a bottomless well where different actors dwell and the latter is becoming more and more fragmented which means that there will not be one model above all but many. But going stage by stage through chapters it seems that there is more historical narrative than suggestions on how to live in the new cyber world. “The Hacked World Order” might be a solid base for the next volume where the author will develop ideas for the future.
Cyberspace: Can Real Players be Brought
As Segal rightly points out, an international order in cyber is now only coming to light; there is no structure, no concrete rules but already countries are wise enough to realize that there should be no resort to hard power in a cyber conflict. Closer to the end of the book the author suggests that in the light of what is happening in the world cyber conflicts might be a peculiar solution to bloodshed in various parts of the world. Since so far cyber incidents have not resulted in any real victims, this can be a way out in the coming century.
Too Much US is Never Enough
“The Hacked World Order”, with all its advantages and sharpness, is generally about the US. Other countries are often portrayed as hostile or deviating from what Washington has to offer. This is not critical since cyber, as most other domains in the IR, is regarded by most of the players as not a united common playground but a space where fences should be built – especially by countries, which do not agree with the US vision of the world. This is a gruesome truth and countries and non-state actors have to leave with it, especially in the post-Snowden era. Citing most of what has happened in cyber in the US can be instructing educationally for other countries, so “The Hacked World Order” can be regarded by others outside the US as a rudimentary guidebook for building national cyber agenda. Segal provides his audience with a detailed picture of how cyber is governed inside the US, which departments and divisions within the American government are responsible for creating national policy in this sensitive area. Of course, within the US – as in many other countries – cyber lives in the very vicinity of military matters.
Vaccinated Atom: Cybersecurity for Nuclear
The US is an uncontestable pioneer in the internet and cyber spheres, but what goes on within other countries should not be avoided and misinterpreted. The US experience is a unique one, which should and can be a template for others. Washington can make a sincere attempt to bring together the expert and political professionals from across the globe who will start a promising and open dialogue. States should not focus solely on their interests as it might lead to unpredictable consequences – as the author reiterates it towards the end of the book: strong alliances should be built between countries and best practices shared.
Cyber is a relatively new and fresh area of the IR and interstate relations. It does not have the heavy weight of Cold War heritage. This is why cyber dialogue can become one of the most promising platforms for international cooperation. Cyber empowers individuals as nothing has done in the modern history of human mankind but the grand decisions are still made by the countries ahead in technological and innovative development. This is a one and true chance for the countries to conduct a meaningful and lengthy discussion on what cyber world order they want to live in.
“The Hacked World Order” is more about problems we face today than about order per se, but nonetheless it is a major academic attempt to highlight the pillars of this emerging construct which will inevitably influence all aspects of our life. And it is a great reading if you have no experience in the area and have only heard the words “laptop,” “Facebook” and “Twitter.”