The Premise: Humankind’s dependency on technology pervades our lives. In the cracks between man and machine, hackers ply their trade. Motivated by both politics and profit, they affect the building blocks of our survival. Tim Maurer pens a ministerial text steeped in the academic study of statecraft in a world of state and non-state cyber actors. He paints a post-graduate level tapestry of diplomacy, manipulation, coercion, culture, economics, agency theory, uncertainty theory, terrorism studies, international law, and other disciplines to build a taxonomy of cyberspace from the view of the hackers and their beneficiaries — a Marauder’s Map peering into a foreboding future.
The 411: This book is a Marianas Trench deep dive into the cyber-verse. It’s an expert’s reference for building future research in a still very new field of study, global hacktivism. Maurer repeatedly packs entire graduate school semester courses into nuanced sentences; each of which could keep tenured Ivory Tower researchers and front line field personnel rolling in work for decades. But if you want to know how cyber warfare is organized and, more importantly, where it has emerged, this book will open your eyes.
The Verdict: The book isn’t an easy read. It’s clearly meant for professionals who have been soaking in global stability analysis hot tub since the Reagan years. Be prepared to look up unfamiliar terms. The text is 163 pages; footnotes take up an additional 70 pages. The author covers how the beneficiaries of hacking for influence fits into the broader art of statecraft using a modified form of the D.I.M.E. theorem of influence, consisting of Diplomacy, Intimidation, Militancy, and Economics. He covers the dynamics of the four types of benefactor-actor interaction where state and non-state players can be either string puller or operator. Maurer then goes on to detail the spectrum of how states can delegate, orchestrate, or sanction hackers. Also discussed is international law surrounding the use of cyber techniques as effectors of influence and warfare.
Maurer draws on research from areas such as the management of militias and the study of its close cousin, terrorism networks, to help color the complexity of the process. He spends time discussing the dilemma of defending against cyber attack; specifically, noting that per international law, nations are obligated to prevent non-state offensive cyber activity even to the point that in the United States it’s a felony to counterattack the hacker if one’s company is bombarded by Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) or destructive malware attacks.
Students of global diversity will appreciate Maurer’s case studies, where he illustrates the radical difference in the path-dependent evolution of cyber activity in different countries. He covers rich western nations like the United States, where the culture of hacking was born in rebellious cultures antagonistic to the state that evolved a cadre of co-opted hackers seeking to serve to the state for monetary gain. He then describes politically motivated actors sometimes loosely connected to, and other times antagonistic to, states in troubled parts of the world like Iran, Syria, and Ukraine; and how they often switch sides.
He also covers the criminal sanctioning of hackers, aka privateering, in poor states like Russia where a weak $1.2 trillion GDP economy and an overabundance of pauper technocrats has led to cyber-crime-for-hire industries; as long as the underworld actors are careful not to aim their tools at the motherland. And finally, he examines the hyper patriotic phenomenon of China, where hackers are so eager to wreak havoc to defend China’s honor against real and imagined enemies that the state has had to create government infrastructure to tame their zeal.
The book describes how these cyber cultures came to be, why they act way they do, and what happens when these disparate cultures interact. He discusses that this is a battle space for tomorrow’s Cold Wars.
The one drawback to Maurer’s coverage was its narrow focus on the phenomenon of state-sponsored cyber operations. Then again, this is new ground just emerging in places like the U.S. where the orchestration of social media can influence public policy faster than considered deliberation can digest. Conversely, non-state actors are at work in places like Eastern Europe where post-national globalism and open society proponents seek to shape and influence that region’s potentially dystopian future. If you want to survive in tomorrow’s man-machine world, absorbing this book is worth your time.
For a real-world example of the devastation caused by cyber warfare, check out our web-exclusive article on the sophisticated Petya cyber-attacks.
Book & Author
Cyber Mercenaries: The State, Hackers, and Power
Cambridge University Press