Virtually Defenseless: Americaʼs Struggle to Defend Itself in Cyberspace and What Can Be Done About It

Prieto, Daniel B.

Nearly twenty-five years after the United States sounded the alarm regarding the risks to US national and economic security posed by the internet, we are struggling in our battle in and for cyberspace. Russia and China, other nation-states, and nation-state-aligned groups have come to regularly employ cyber-enabled espionage, information operations, and cyber effects operations against the United States and its allies to disrupt and degrade civil society and democratic political and institutional stability and to threaten or disrupt critical economic sectors and critical infrastructure. Making matters worse, adversaries have done so with little pushback or consequence. The United States, for all of its undeniable cyber capabilities, has for two decades misconstrued core elements of conflict and competition in cyberspace, focusing on the remote possibility of full-blown cyberwar instead of the ongoing pattern of adversary action below the threshold of war and seeking to address those attacks as individual incidents instead of essential elements of comprehensive political warfare campaigns waged by adversaries against the United States. As a result, US policy has been centered on flawed and incomplete defensive cyber strategies that relied almost exclusively on hardening targets via technical defenses while neglecting defensive cyber effects operations to counter adversary cyber capabilities and failing to have a systematic answer for cyber-enabled influence operations and information warfare. This article examines the complex roots of Americaʼs challenges in cyberspace and sets forth a vision for a US cyber strategy that is essential to and inextricable from emerging US grand strategy for the post-post-9/11 world.


Also Published In

SAIS Review of International Affairs

More About This Work

Academic Units
Arnold A Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies
Published Here
May 9, 2022