Cyber is to electronic warfare as rain is to a dam

I’ve watched as the cyber v. electronic warfare fight rages. The dollars, power, esteem, and leadership within the government drive forces in the debate. On the one hand you have a tried and true organization like the Association of Old Crows who have a tool based culture. On the other side you have. Well nobody but scientists and not a very lot of them. Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of electrical engineering PhDs on the electronic warfare side of this debate. Yet most of the policy makers and writers are simply wrong in how they think about cyber.

Consider rain. If you are a dam builder you see the rain as a natural event and an unremarkable one unless there is none. Your job is the control of the river, the holding back of the water, and the creation of energy from that restrained power. You can build an entire science around the design, construction, and operation of a dam. Yet, without the rain you have nothing.

A science around the rain is not being a weatherman. It is the science of meteorology and understanding the vast systemic effects of weather, planet, and man on a fundamental force of nature. Rain is a result of that fundamental force, but it is not the only force. A meteorologist understands the vast relationships behind the environmental factors of his discipline. Rain is but one expression of that vast system that the operators of the dam can perceive. Digital quantification perfection is as much an illusion as is perfect prediction of the weather.

To the dam operator it is all about what they do since they constrain, contain, and manage the water in the river. That water came from the rain. A valid, and in fact important task to be sure. The dam though is not the rain. And cyber is not part of the electro magnetic spectrum any more than the electronic warfare people have ownership of cyber. Currently almost nobody in government or the military have any kind of specific relationship with cyber. They’re all building dams.

I’ve written about this before and I keep trying to evaluate an argument that explains why the EW people and signals people simply don’t understand cyber. Everybody wants to own cyber to keep themselves ahead of the pack. Yet almost nobody wants to discuss the first principles of cyber. This absurd absence is not trivial. It is an incredible and dangerous impact on national security. Yet it is ignored because it does not play well with politicians as it can’t be explained in a few bullet points.

Cyber is not the electro magnetic spectrum. Context, content, and emotion are principle aspects of cyber as expressed through the man-machine interface as forms of information. There is much more to this, but you can’t fit the fundamentals of cyber in a paragraph anymore than you can the fundamentals of physics. We can talk about how information can be stored physically as well as digitally. Though we don’t deal with Hollerith cards anymore the analogy is still valid. You don’t have to have the EMS to have data exchanged. Cyber transcends the current computing paradigm people are focused on. The exposure to the world of the new domain through the current computing society use of the domain does not mean it didn’t exist prior. All it means is you can see and interact with it today.

Today the computational revolution and information society is largely run on a digital and binary solutions for computation. Tomorrow that may not be true. Biological and analog computers are being assessed and brought on-line. DNA computing and storage is being experimented with. Cyber transcends those technologies and is instantiated in the complex interactions of man and machine information exchange. I’ve already had conversations with senior leaders who said cyber is just the network and who cares about data mining. This is a form of strategic blindness.

None of this is new concepts. It is an ignored concept because government and industry leadership struggles with simplistic analogies and as such makes decisions that are half measures. It isn’t about the dam anymore than it is about the computer. It is about the systemic creation of the rain, the constraints put upon it and the absolute nature of the entirety of the system. To make matters worse government ignores this as an area of science as they buy weapons to wage war in a cartoonish made up version of the domain. Critics of the current cyber war debate are stumbling around the edge of this scientific truth.

Dams are monolithic structures built by man, but the river was there long before the damn. The rain is what made the river. This is not a refutation of the dam as a human activity. It is an understanding that mistaking the tools for the environment is a very bad risk indeed.

10 comments for “Cyber is to electronic warfare as rain is to a dam

  1. joelharding1234
    November 18, 2012 at 9:28 am

    Very thought provoking, Sam! Very good.

    The original mission statement for the US Cyber Command included four separate EMS statements. I’ve tried to find again, but I can’t prove it. It was, of course, a draft and I never got to see where the EMS statements went or why. With this full disclosure it was apparent at the time that the US Cyber Command recognized that cyber uses the EMS… I believe the intent was to include satellite connections on a strategic basis and WiFi, WiMax and the like tactically.

    Could the world of cyber not use the EMS? Yes, but it would really slow things down terribly.

    Once again I’m also going to have to defer to your better judgement as to what we call the electronic carrier waves within our systems. Electricity does not fall within the EMS, I’m curious where electricity belongs now that I think about it.

  2. joelharding1234
    November 18, 2012 at 9:37 am

    I sit corrected. Electricity is in the EMS but it’s called electrical power in the below graphic.

    So, perhaps it is better said cyber only uses one specific frequency range?

    I read a lot of the strong relationship between electricity, light, and magnetism. Interesting. I guess it boils down to what your definition of “is” is.

  3. sam
    November 18, 2012 at 10:11 am

    First, we have to understand a few things. The US Cyber Command, a completely owned subsidiary of the NSA, is not an expert at cyber. They are an expert at their use of cyber. Federal government policy, United States military doctrine, and similar do not define cyber and are fully capable of being really stupid about it. I can give significant examples of other areas of science in the past that government simply was to stupid to accomplish anything. From nuclear weapons to the principles of flight.

    You are completely incorrect in thinking that things would be really slow if we abandoned EMS or didn’t use it for cyber. The fastest super computer in the world is an analog, chemical based, monster of computational power. There are about 7 billion of them. The focus on EMS in dealing with the brain has come with huge problems. Scientists now know that the human brain has a huge chemical component to how it processes information (that is why drugs and anesthesia work, and why a few drinks lubricates a coed prior to frivolity). We are easily in reach of using “junk” DNA as a storage mechanism and we’ve already bypassed security standards and have fully developed steganography of DNA science.

    What you’re doing by your examples is focusing on the transmission mechanisms. That is what almost all of the current government, military, and aficionados stating cyber is EMS are doing. They focus on the thing they feel they have the most control over. And, they completely miss all of the other states of information.

    This is not an argument of semantics. It is an argument for understanding the totality of the problem and threat set towards national security. There are significant issues with focusing on on one part (EMS) and often one small part of that (transmission) in a much larger paradigm. There are even larger issues in the way cyber is linked to conflict when it is part of the human existence far beyond the “war” moniker. While government entities are worried about a simplistic element an entire set of other problems are starting to rise.

    What happens the first time a virus writes a national security secret into a spies DNA? Why no I don’t have any digital media and as I leave your country I’m clean and you’re secure. Or, maybe not.

    Also, don’t focus on just the DNA examples given here. They are just that, examples. There is a lot of different ways that human interactions with information (the true cyber domain) are going to be expressed. It is all about the man-machine, man-information, man-data, interaction and interface. Not just the EMS. Not just EW. While people are looking at only that an entire set of other problems are rising up to bite them. They will not understand that they had an entire science to pull from that was first developed in the 1950s. For that, I blame politicians, and rice bowl nazis.

  4. joelharding1234
    November 18, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Agreed. Good points. I think of the processing (DNA computers, etc) as one point in the whole of cyberspace and the communications piece links it all together as the world of cyber. Not sure how those 7 billion supercomputing humans fit into that picture except as consumers, programmers, users, etc…

  5. sam
    November 18, 2012 at 11:21 am

    It is a man-machine interface problem. Though it is beginning to look like machine-to-machine will become a factor. Without the human the cyber component is nothing but processing. So, those billions of humans in the loop represent a huge contingent of processing power and a specific role in the existence of cyber. So, yes they are consumers, programmers, and users but they are critical. From our perspective we really don’t care about much more than those people and the interactions, but from a larger view they are still part of the system. Regardless, of the technology the human is critical. Today.

  6. joelharding1234
    November 18, 2012 at 11:25 am

    I see the basis for a good article, defining what you just wrote, Sam. Teach outside the classroom, like you school me. The need for your teaching is greater than you can imagine.

  7. sam
    November 18, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Joel, you’re my friend and are interested in the topic. Understand I’m not upset when I say nobody cares. Literally, nobody cares about cyber beyond the EMS. There is a huge strategic blind spot but until it is exploited there is no concern. There is no way to even detect an exploitation at this time. There is no money for research, and there is so much in rice-bowl-politics that anything beyond cyber as EMS is considered “fringe”. That is why I blog versus write books or academic articles on the topic. Nobody cares except for a few people. My cyber warfare book with Bob Miller is strictly inside the lines (as it should be). I do have a day job after all. The best I can hope for is infecting the “stratpack” and a few others with the ideas and try a Boydian strategic culture infection through memetic repetition. So far. Well it ain’t working.

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