Air force cyberspace symposia: Loose ends in cyber space

The definition of cyber space came up again as a primary topic at the United States Air Force Cyberspace symposia at Maxwell Air Force Base. The Air University has a strict non attribution policy so all comments that follow are mine and should not be attributed to any other entities. I would have to say though that I found great value in the proceedings and hope that in some small way I was able to support the national discourse. As has been my habit I covered all costs out of my pocket, all expenses for hotel, food, travel were on my dime. So, for those in oversight no state funds were used. Since as a professor I am not employed by the University during the summer my comments should not be attributed to my employer either. 

Cyberspace: Defining for scope rather than ideas

Defining the indescribable through devolving spirals of illogical discussion of irrelevant elements proposing punditry of political pandering instead of informing intention of further defining an elementary concept rather than inform through simple commentary is egregiously failing in usefulness. My opening sentence is no less obscuring of meaning or content than the miraculous attempts of various entities in the national defense political structure to re-define in multitudes of ways something they have adopted. The government attempts to define cyber space is kind of like crazy uncle George showing up and renaming your brother “Fred” even though you don’t have a brother and your sisters name is Sue.  

Cyberspace as a term was first used by Gibson in his book from 1984 called “Neuromancer” on page 8. Just for the record Cyberspace is a technological construct. Nothing more, and nothing less. There are many different levels, methods, concepts, and ideas that can be placed into that construct. The Internet is part of that construct just as much as the plain old telephone system (POTS) is part of that construct. It is much more than data packets, and not quite smoke signals.

I really do not like the military/government entity desire to use domain for describing much of the stuff they are trying to create sovereignty over. I much prefer the concept of terrain which is inclusive and describes where interaction occurs. I have flirted with other cyberspace definitions such as possible change would be “Cyberspace is that terrain that is defined in scope by the communications systems, information systems, storage systems, entertainment systems, display and/or visualization systems, and telemetry & sensor systems of the modern age. Regardless of signal type or utilization.” The problem is the definition is an idea looking to solve something. 

The longer definition though is problematic because it is not general enough. Thomas Kuhn said that the better understood a science the more general the explanation of the basic building blocks. So we mix and dice and try again for a better definition. We do not want to use domain, we want it to reflect that technology is involved which advances it beyond simple information operations, and there has to be interaction of some type (hence communication.) 


“Cyberspace is the terrain of technology mediated communication.” 


Simple, succinct, and representative of what is involved and what is not involved. More importantly in defining a terrain we can now apply the patterns of conflict in other terrains to this new environment. Sub-surface naval techniques may not apply to cyberspace, but the aspects of asymmetrical land warfare or guerilla warfare techniques may actually be applicable. More importantly there may be clues to the legal issues and solutions found in the legal precedents of land warfare or naval engagement that we can apply to cyberspace. In some way I think the military/government entities are trying to warp a concept by egregious definition instead of working on a mission statement that reflects the capabilities and realities of the resulting definition. In some way it seems that it is thought that “If we make a highly specific definition we can say we do X but only actually do Y”. It is a bit of bureaucratic subterfuge by defining something to narrowly. 

I will be going into depth on some of the other topics at a later date, but I think this covers the issue of definition quite well.