Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Cybersecurity and Cyberwar by P.W. Singer and Allan Friedman

Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What everyone needs to know
by P.W. Singer and Allan FriedmanSinger - Cybersecurity

A few years ago I made a conscious decision that I wouldn’t seek to branch into writing about cybersecurity. Though it is increasingly important in the general fields of international politics/strategy/Australian security that I wander through, and there are far too few genuine experts in the area, it didn’t seem a good match. Afterall, the only credentials I could bring to it were 2 months of a failed computer science degree and far-too-much-of a lifetime spent staring at a screen.

Still, given the rising significance of the field I can’t not know about it. And nor can you, whatever your field. Online activity (however we label it, given those in the know tell me ‘cyber’ is soo passse) is as much a going concern as gender, race, class, traffic or the weather. And frequently represents a new and distorting facet of those fields as well.

As such primer books that give a basis for future reading and not sounding dumb in social conversation are ideal. I’ve read a few academic articles on the topics over the years, and countless news stories, and this fits neatly in between. It offers enough base principles and systematic discussion that I feel I’ve built a much firmer foundation for my knowledge, without ever seeing sentences such as ‘A computer is an electronic device that….’ It’s not a ‘dummies’ book, or a textbook, but instead a series effort to help get everyone else up to speed.

Like the best analysis of cyber issues, most of the book isn’t actually about technology. Tools change, what matters is how, where, and why people try to use them to influence the behaviour of others. That’s when it becomes an issue of security, strategy and even war. And this is where the book shines. Peter W. Singer is a strong analysts (I recommend his ‘Wired for War’ on drones & robotics) and with Allan Friedman he has written a very engaging baseline book for those wanting to get across what’s important – how online issues may affect our politics and ourselves – while including enough tech knowledge to know why that might occur.

It’s easy to look down on such books, but this is by two good analysts from Brookings Institute, with a top university press (Oxford) and very well written. If you think you need to know about these issues, this is a great starting point. For a more advanced class, I also recommend Thomas Rid’s ‘Cyber war will not take place‘, which is much more of an academics book, though also very readable and engaging. Hopefully it will inspire more people to make the decision I didn’t and choose cyber issues as their field of research. We certainly need it.