A Failure to Identify: A Look at United States Cyber Policy

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The old adage that history repeats itself is ever so present in Fred Kaplan’s Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War. There is a recurring theme in the United States (US) government of implementation lag, policy lag, and a lack of proper oversight in this rapidly changing technology age. The problem is 3-fold: (1) the lack of an implementation plan makes the policy just a piece of paper with ink, (2) the absence of policy hinders the ability for entities to protect critical cyber infrastructure in a systematic manner, (3) the lack of proper oversight allows entities the opportunity to utilize technology with little to no accountability, on the fringe of ethical use in some instances. The reader finds these exact cases when you strip away the minutia of Kaplan’s book.

Kaplan does well at setting the tone for the book. He paints a picture of science fiction becoming science fact with the introduction of a 1983 movie, WarGames, about a tech-whiz teenager who unwittingly hacks into the main computer at NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (Kaplan 8). What followed 15-months later, after President Ronald Reagan inquired his staff on the validity of the movie, was National Security Decision Directive Number 145: National Policy on Telecommunications and Automated Information Systems Security (NSDD-145), signed on 17 September 1984, which marked the first of many national policies involving the emerging cyber landscape. This, however, was short-lived as the issue vanished, at least in the realm of high-level politics, and [w]hen it reemerged a dozen years later, after a spate of actual cyber intrusions during Bill Clinton’s presidency [1993 – 2001], enough time had passed that the senior officials of the day were shocked by the nation’s seemingly sudden vulnerability to this brand-new threat. The technology climate, at the time of signing, was nowhere near as robust as today. Kaplan notes that, the first public Internet providers wouldn’t come online for another few years. This climate clearly shapes the apathy by senior officials. While the prescient nature of the policy showed that the US government understood the impending threat, this meant nothing without proper implementation.

The recurring theme of lag, this time policy, continues in a 1990 study by the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment,

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