Policymakers and academics were taken aback by Russia’s influence campaign during the 2016 US Presidential Elections, revealing a hole in the existing theories of (cyber) power.
The Perfect Weapon: How Russian Cyberpower Invaded The U.S.
More quietly than the prevalent militaristic ideas of cyber power suggested, Russia had exploited information technology to project power. Instead of producing destruction and chaos, it made American strength bases weaker.
New research has highlighted the cutting-edge nature of this mechanism’s engineering. Instead, I will argue that the campaign’s success exemplified the relevance of a theoretically underappreciated tool of power: subversion. This article presents a novel theory of subversion as reverse structural power by integrating scholarship from the field of Intelligence with the philosophy of International Relations.
The holder of structural power can gain from reshaping interactional and structural positional capacities to suit his or her needs. As a result of subversion, these advantages become disadvantages.
It takes use of holes in structures to covertly control them, using the power of privileged positions to generate results that those in authority never intended. Contrasted with the social structures targeted by traditional subversion, the targets of cyber operations are the sociotechnical systems—the embedded Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in today’s societies.
While the systems being attacked are distinct, they both employ exploitative subversion to flip the power dynamic. Covert cyber operations are a kind of subversion. Two of cybersecurity’s biggest mysteries are explained by this theory: the capability-vulnerability contradiction and the disproportionate impact of non-state actors.
Finally, I show how the theory might be applied to a plausibility check by looking at the 2016 Election Interference Campaign. This demonstrates that the campaign did not rely on any novel “weapons,” but rather a blend of more conventional and technological methods of disruption. Thanks for reading our article The Perfect Weapon: How Russian Cyberpower Invaded The U.S.