There will be no ‘Cyber Cuban Missile Crisis’
“Modern technology has outpaced the ability of shared familiar metaphors to describe it. Trying to tie modern threats, executed with code over a global network infrastructure that didn’t exist decades ago, to historical analogies is a perilous activity. Which is why I was perplexed to find a recent instance of Russian hacking frames as a ‘Cyber Cuban Missile Crisis.’ There will never be a ‘Cyber Cuban Missile Crisis,’ for the same reason that there will never be a ‘Cyber Pearl Harbor’ or a ‘Cyber 9/11:’ the metaphor doesn’t work, and trying to structure debate and preparations around bad metaphors can only lead to bad policy.
History is rich with threats and reactions, signals read correctly or misread obviously in hindsight, and so there is a natural inclination when trying to explain a new threat, a new kind of problem, to anchor it to something in the past. For the American audience, and especially American policymakers, three events loom large: the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the careful brinkmanship and de-escalation of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001. World War II, the Cold War, and the War on Terror are integral to the history of this nation, but isolating them into single catch-phrase events, and then slapping a technology adjective on the front, does not make the lessons of the past any clearer, or offer only a single suggestion about the way forward.”