English-Video.net comment policy

The comment field is common to all languages

Let's write in your language and use "Google Translate" together

Please refer to informative community guidelines on TED.com

TEDxParis 2010

Guy-Philippe Goldstein: How cyberattacks threaten real-world peace

Filmed
Views 475,638

Nations can now attack other nations with cyber weapons: silent strikes on another country's computer systems, power grids, dams that leave no trace behind. (Think of the Stuxnet worm.) Guy-Philippe Goldstein shows how cyberattacks can leap between the digital and physical worlds to prompt armed conflict -- and how we might avert this global security hazard.

- Author
Guy-Philippe Goldstein is the author of Babel Minute Zero, a novel that examines the reality of cyberwar in our current geopolitical topography. Full bio

Good afternoon.
00:15
If you have followed
00:16
diplomatic news in the past weeks,
00:18
you may have heard of a kind of crisis
00:20
between China and the U.S.
00:22
regarding cyberattacks
00:24
against the American company Google.
00:26
Many things have been said about this.
00:28
Some people have called a cyberwar
00:30
what may actually be
00:32
just a spy operation --
00:34
and obviously, a quite mishandled one.
00:36
However, this episode reveals
00:38
the growing anxiety in the Western world
00:41
regarding these emerging cyber weapons.
00:43
It so happens that these weapons are dangerous.
00:46
They're of a new nature:
00:48
they could lead the world
00:50
into a digital conflict
00:52
that could turn into an armed struggle.
00:54
These virtual weapons can also destroy the physical world.
00:56
In 1982, in the middle of the Cold War
01:01
in Soviet Siberia,
01:04
a pipeline exploded with a burst of 3 kilotons,
01:06
the equivalent of a fourth of the Hiroshima bomb.
01:10
Now we know today -- this was revealed
01:12
by Thomas Reed,
01:14
Ronald Reagan's former U.S. Air Force Secretary --
01:16
this explosion was actually the result
01:18
of a CIA sabotage operation,
01:21
in which they had managed
01:23
to infiltrate the IT management systems
01:25
of that pipeline.
01:27
More recently, the U.S. government revealed
01:29
that in September 2008, more than 3 million people
01:32
in the state of Espirito Santo in Brazil
01:35
were plunged into darkness,
01:38
victims of a blackmail operation from cyber pirates.
01:40
Even more worrying for the Americans,
01:45
in December 2008 the holiest of holies,
01:47
the IT systems of CENTCOM,
01:50
the central command
01:52
managing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,
01:54
may have been infiltrated by hackers
01:57
who used these:
01:59
plain but infected USB keys.
02:02
And with these keys, they may have been able
02:04
to get inside CENTCOM's systems,
02:06
to see and hear everything,
02:08
and maybe even infect some of them.
02:10
As a result, the Americans take the threat very seriously.
02:12
I'll quote General James Cartwright,
02:14
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
02:16
who says in a report to Congress
02:18
that cyberattacks could be as powerful as
02:20
weapons of mass destruction.
02:23
Moreover, the Americans have decided
02:26
to spend over 30 billion dollars
02:28
in the next five years
02:30
to build up their cyberwar capabilities.
02:32
And across the world today, we see
02:34
a sort of cyber arms race,
02:36
with cyberwar units
02:39
built up by countries like North Korea
02:41
or even Iran.
02:43
Yet, what you'll never hear
02:44
from spokespeople
02:46
from the Pentagon or the French Department of Defence
02:48
is that the question isn't really
02:51
who's the enemy, but actually
02:53
the very nature of cyber weapons.
02:55
And to understand why, we must look at how,
02:58
through the ages, military technologies
03:00
have maintained or destroyed
03:03
world peace.
03:05
For example,
03:08
if we'd had TEDxParis
03:10
350 years ago,
03:11
we would have talked about the military innovation of the day --
03:13
the massive Vauban-style fortifications --
03:16
and we could have predicted
03:19
a period of stability in the world or in Europe.
03:21
which was indeed the case in Europe
03:24
between 1650 and 1750.
03:27
Similarly, if we'd had this talk
03:29
30 or 40 years ago, we would have seen
03:32
how the rise of nuclear weapons,
03:35
and the threat of mutually assured destruction they imply,
03:37
prevents a direct fight between the two superpowers.
03:41
However, if we'd had this talk 60 years ago,
03:45
we would have seen how the emergence
03:47
of new aircraft and tank technologies,
03:50
which give the advantage to the attacker,
03:53
make the Blitzkrieg doctrine very credible
03:56
and thus create the possibility of war in Europe.
03:59
So military technologies
04:02
can influence the course of the world,
04:04
can make or break world peace --
04:06
and there lies the issue with cyber weapons.
04:08
The first issue:
04:10
Imagine a potential enemy announcing
04:12
they're building a cyberwar unit,
04:15
but only for their country's defense.
04:17
Okay, but what distinguishes it
04:19
from an offensive unit?
04:22
It gets even more complicated
04:24
when the doctrines of use become ambiguous.
04:26
Just 3 years ago, both the U.S. and France
04:30
were saying they were investing militarily in cyberspace,
04:34
strictly to defend their IT systems.
04:38
But today both countries say
04:41
the best defense is to attack.
04:44
And so, they're joining China,
04:46
whose doctrine of use for 15 years has been
04:48
both defensive and offensive.
04:52
The second issue:
04:55
Your country could be under cyberattack
04:57
with entire regions plunged into total darkness,
05:01
and you may not even know
05:04
who's attacking you.
05:06
Cyber weapons have this peculiar feature:
05:08
they can be used
05:10
without leaving traces.
05:12
This gives a tremendous advantage to the attacker,
05:13
because the defender
05:15
doesn't know who to fight back against.
05:17
And if the defender retaliates against the wrong adversary,
05:19
they risk making one more enemy
05:21
and ending up diplomatically isolated.
05:24
This issue isn't just theoretical.
05:26
In May 2007, Estonia was the victim of cyberattacks,
05:28
that damaged its communication
05:30
and banking systems.
05:33
Estonia accused Russia.
05:35
But NATO, though it defends Estonia,
05:37
reacted very prudently. Why?
05:39
Because NATO couldn't be 100% sure
05:41
that the Kremlin was indeed behind these attacks.
05:43
So to sum up, on the one hand,
05:48
when a possible enemy announces
05:51
they're building a cyberwar unit,
05:53
you don't know whether it's for attack
05:55
or defense.
05:57
On the other hand,
05:58
we know that these weapons give an advantage to attacking.
05:59
In a major article published in 1978,
06:03
Professor Robert Jervis of Columbia University in New York
06:06
described a model to understand
06:08
how conflicts could arise.
06:10
In this context,
06:12
when you don't know if the potential enemy
06:15
is preparing for defense or attack,
06:17
and if the weapons give an advantage to attacking,
06:20
then this environment is
06:22
most likely to spark a conflict.
06:24
This is the environment that's being created
06:28
by cyber weapons today,
06:30
and historically it was the environment in Europe
06:32
at the onset of World War I.
06:35
So cyber weapons
06:39
are dangerous by nature,
06:41
but in addition, they're emerging
06:43
in a much more unstable environment.
06:46
If you remember the Cold War,
06:48
it was a very hard game,
06:50
but a stable one played only by two players,
06:52
which allowed for some coordination between the two superpowers.
06:54
Today we're moving to a multipolar world
06:57
in which coordination is much more complicated,
07:02
as we have seen at Copenhagen.
07:03
And this coordination may become even trickier
07:06
with the introduction of cyber weapons.
07:09
Why? Because no nation
07:12
knows for sure whether its neighbor
07:14
is about to attack.
07:17
So nations may live under the threat
07:19
of what Nobel Prize winner Thomas Schelling
07:21
called the "reciprocal fear of surprise attack,"
07:24
as I don't know if my neighbor
07:26
is about to attack me or not --
07:28
I may never know --
07:30
so I might take the upper hand
07:32
and attack first.
07:34
Just last week,
07:37
in a New York Times article dated January 26, 2010,
07:39
it was revealed for the first time that
07:43
officials at the National Security Agency
07:45
were considering the possibility of preemptive attacks
07:48
in cases where the U.S. was about
07:52
to be cyberattacked.
07:55
And these preemptive attacks
07:58
might not just remain
08:00
in cyberspace.
08:01
In May 2009, General Kevin Chilton,
08:05
commander of the U.S. nuclear forces,
08:10
stated that in the event of cyberattacks against the U.S.,
08:13
all options would be on the table.
08:18
Cyber weapons do not replace
08:21
conventional or nuclear weapons --
08:23
they just add a new layer to the existing system of terror.
08:25
But in doing so, they also add their own risk
08:30
of triggering a conflict --
08:33
as we've just seen, a very important risk --
08:35
and a risk we may have to confront
08:37
with a collective security solution
08:39
which includes all of us:
08:42
European allies, NATO members,
08:44
our American friends and allies,
08:46
our other Western allies,
08:48
and maybe, by forcing their hand a little,
08:50
our Russian and Chinese partners.
08:52
The information technologies
08:55
Joël de Rosnay was talking about,
08:57
which were historically born from military research,
08:59
are today on the verge of developing
09:01
an offensive capability of destruction,
09:03
which could tomorrow, if we're not careful,
09:06
completely destroy world peace.
09:10
Thank you.
09:13
(Applause)
09:15
Translated by Elisabeth Buffard
Reviewed by Veronica Martinez

▲Back to top

About the speaker:

Guy-Philippe Goldstein - Author
Guy-Philippe Goldstein is the author of Babel Minute Zero, a novel that examines the reality of cyberwar in our current geopolitical topography.

Why you should listen

By day, Guy-Philippe Goldstein is a management consultant. At night, he writes gripping political thrillers treating of cyberwar. He's a graduate of France’s prestigious Hautes Études Commerciales, and has an MBA from Northwestern University. Babel Minute Zero is his first novel.

More profile about the speaker
Guy-Philippe Goldstein | Speaker | TED.com