Loving the Cyber Bomb? The Dangers of Threat Inflation in Cybersecurity Policy

Harvard National Security Journal, Forthcoming

39 Pages Posted: 5 May 2011 Last revised: 5 Apr 2015

Date Written: April 26, 2011


Over the past two years there has been a steady drumbeat of alarmist rhetoric coming out of Washington about potential catastrophic cyber threats. For example, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last year, Chairman Carl Levin said that “cyberweapons and cyberattacks potentially can be devastating, approaching weapons of mass destruction in their effects.” Proposed responses include increased federal spending on cybersecurity and the regulation of private network security practices.

The rhetoric of “cyber doom” employed by proponents of increased federal intervention, however, lacks clear evidence of a serious threat that can be verified by the public. As a result, the United States may be witnessing a bout of threat inflation similar to that seen in the run-up to the Iraq War. Additionally, a cyber-industrial complex is emerging, much like the military-industrial complex of the Cold War. This complex may serve to not only supply cybersecurity solutions to the federal government, but to drum up demand for them as well.

Part I of this article draws a parallel between today’s cybersecurity debate and the run-up to the Iraq War and looks at how an inflated public conception of the threat we face may lead to unnecessary regulation of the Internet. Part II draws a parallel between the emerging cybersecurity establishment and the military-industrial complex of the Cold War and looks at how unwarranted external influence can lead to unnecessary federal spending. Finally, Part III surveys several federal cybersecurity proposals and presents a framework for analyzing the cybersecurity threat.

Keywords: cybersecurity, threat inflation, military-industrial complex, cyber attacks, cyber war

Suggested Citation

Brito, Jerry and Watkins, Tate, Loving the Cyber Bomb? The Dangers of Threat Inflation in Cybersecurity Policy (April 26, 2011). Harvard National Security Journal, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1830625

Jerry Brito

Independent ( email )

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