Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Invisible Costs of Cyber Weapons - Defense One

The Invisible Costs of Cyber Weapons - Defense One: Max Smeets’ take on the cost of cyber weapons is a thoughtful piece about the economics of cyber warfare, and the article is a useful point of departure on this topic. However, a few additional points not discussed by Smeets are worth considering, and they all point in the direction of higher costs that his piece might predict.

Begin with the fact that the economics for cyber weapons usable in a military context are fundamentally different than for kinetic weapons. With the latter, military power is highly correlated with number—specifically, the number of identical units of a given weapon. One hundred tanks (with crews, logistics, etc.) provides more military power than one tank. That is, for kinetic weapons, military power accrues as the result of procurement processes.

Not so for cyber weapons. No one would argue that a nation has more cyber power in a military sense if it has 100 identical CD-ROMs with a software-based cyber weapon on it. For cyber weapons, military power accrues as the result of research and development (R&D) processes.

So what? In the weapons acquisition process, R&D costs are amortized over multiple copies of a weapon. The effectiveness of a cyber weapon is a very strong function of the target’s characteristics. For example, the smallest change in configuration of the target can under many circumstances completely negate the effectiveness of a cyber weapon against it. To successfully attack two cyber targets that are almost identical may require two very different cyber weapons employing two different approaches to achieving their destructive effects. The coupling between weapons effectiveness and target characteristics is much weaker for kinetic weapons.