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Libicki, Conquest in Cyberspace

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Martin Libicki, Conquest in Cyberspace: National Security and Information Warfare (2007)

Author Background: Senior policy analyst at RAND since 1998 and has taught at NDU, served on Navy staff asanalyst for industrial preparedness; also authored Mesh and the Net.PhD from Berkley in 1978.

Thesis: Since it is difficult to permenantly & anonymously take control of other people's cyberspace, corrupt their data, and shut down their systems, cyberspace itself cannot be conquered in a conventional sense. Therefore, the possabilities of hostile conquest may be less consequential than meets the eye while the possibilities of friendly conquest (getting others locked-into your technology) ought to be better appreciated. Those with the most attractive systems - in terms of information, knowledge, services and reach -- may extend their influence of their values by taking a more open appraoch.


3 – Hard power, like hostile conquest in cyberspace, ultimately entails one nation doing to another what the other would prefer it not do. It is involuntary. Soft power, like friendly conquest in cyberspace, describes the process of enticement.

5 – cyberspace is a replicable construct ... it is also reparable.

6 – to exist in cyberspace, your interactions must be recognized there

7 – some aspects of cyberspace nevertheless tend to be persistent

8 – cyberspace has separate layers (physical, syntactic, and semantic) the conquest of each of which has vastly different meaning.

9 – Becoming a meaningful part of the conversation has three requirements: getting to the party hall, finding a key to a private room, and being accepted by those who are conversing.

13 –dominant systems can set the rules and make it harder to justify establishing systems based on competing ones. … their influence is stronger because others have brought their systems into alignment with such rules.

29 –destruction of information is more likely than eavesdropping to be perceived as an act of war. … redundancy is getting cheaper thus physical attacks are more likely to disrupt information processes than destroy information itself.

35 -- There is no such thing as forced entry in cyber

37 – Although making mischief is easy, permanently damaging a system through conquest in cyberspace is not.hostile

43 – Even in advance societies individuals can walk away from their computers. The service they support, while contributing to the quality of life, are generally not essential to its continuation.

62/3 – one can characterize information systems along a continuum anchored by two ideal types: castles and agoras. Castles protect noise intolerant environments; agoras are noise-tolerant, indeed noisy, environments. Castles characterize a nation’s critical infrastructures … Agoras are the great consumer and political marketplaces of cyberspace … the strategy of redundancy that works well in defending agoras and physical systems is counterproductive in defending castles

71 – Those who can keep their enemies in the castle own the agora.

87 – Information warfare, as a weapon, has a strong tendency to depreciate once it is used.

90 -- you can’t predict the effect of most cyber activity

130 – The ability of militaries to prevail in future conflicts may thus depend less on what they own and more on what they can find, bargain for, patch together, and exploit. … from the locals.

145 -- internal system architectures shape external interfaces – a system designed for interoperability is more attractive to an outsider than one where interoperability is tacked on unreliably

159 – warfare becomes a matter of finding targets while not becoming one.

160 – The shift to distributed sensors … means that the center of gravity of a modern military would not be located with any one weapon. It would be in cyberspace

172 -- Storing information in cyberspace lets other users annotate the data they see (such as adding historical or other details tagged to a location or facility) and automatically return such annotation to a common pot.

191 -- giving info away for nothing might be a decent way to influence others, who have to adapt in order to use the info

220 close relationships lead to vulnerability, in cyberspace as well as real life (so friendly conquest can be used to coerce)

240 the more complex an info system, the more easily it may be taken over (hostile conquest) or co-opted (friendly conquest)

255 -- defining words (XML) in cyber gives an advantage to the definer

276 –Cyberspace, indeed, has been very very good for the promulgation of US culture, and, to some extent, US values. The power of prominent US-based firs has lent the nation no small influence in setting rules and de facto standards. Yet, these are instruments of the nation, not the state.

288-9 Microsoft may be weak, but it’s not unpatriotic

critical difference in “no forced entry” is physical force; may also be that the overarching goal is being subtle or sneaky to get in and do your thing / the forced entry issue may be that the cyber world is an artificial construct with agreed-upon protocols,

Implications for Strategy:

  • Your information systems are great enablers of the military mission
  • Info systems are also susceptable to attack, however the effects of a cyber attack are temporary
  • Encourage cooperation by partners to achieve a better end product AND (more importantly) get them locked into your systems
  • Friendly conquest takes foresight, planning, trust of other countries and initiative to realize gains

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