The Five Futures of Cyber Conflict and Cooperation

The word cyberspace is nearly thirty years old and during that time, academics, theorists, and strategists have been considering how conflict will unfold in this new domain. As yet, though, little has been published on what kinds of different futures may await us. To address this gap, Jason Healey in a new Atlantic Council issue brief describes five potential mid-term cyber futures: Status Quo, Domain, Balkanization, Cybergeddon, and Paradise.
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Our most likely future is Domain, as this seems to be the path we’re currently on. Here, cyberspace is a domain of conflict like air, land, sea or space in which we have all kinds of cyber conflicts, large and small, all the time.  Cyber offense continues to be much easier than defense.  However, the other futures are all still possible as well. 

In Cybergeddon, offense is so much easier than defense that essentially nothing useful ever gets done in cyberspace anymore.  In Paradise, we finally shift the “geography” of cyberspace in our favor so defense is much stronger than offense.  A Status Quo future looks just like today: no large-scale, long-term catastrophes but plenty of crime and espionage.  In Balkanization (which could fit with one of the other futures) there is no longer a single Internet but many smaller national internets, just like there are lots of national telephone systems. 

It is in the long-term interests of the United States and other like-minded nations to seek a future of Paradise in cyberspace, one that has long-term stability and neutralizes all but the most cunning and determined attackers. The steps to obtain Paradise have been enumerated in countless commissions and studies over the years – all that needs to be done is to implement them. Hopefully, recognizing these possible futures will make it more likely that we can safely navigate toward the one we desire rather than the one we currently deserve. 

Related Experts: Jason Healey

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