Would be cyber-sages, in particular cold-warriors and amateur WWII historians love to butcher military metaphors in an attempt to make their point about the issue of the day. Digital “Pearl Harbor” and “Maginot Line” are frequent examples.

Dr. John Arquilla, arguably the grayest of beards when it comes to the topic of “cyber” and warfare tackles part of the problem head on in a recent article. He is spot on when he points out the flaws in the argument that we face a “digital Pearl Harbor:”

…if the Kido Butai, the Japanese carrier strike force, had caught the three American aircraft carriers deployed to the Pacific in port — they were out to sea at the time of the attack — or had blown up the base’s massive fuel storage tanks, the damage would have been catastrophic. Pearl Harbor was a true “single point of failure.”

Nothing like this exists in cyberspace. Indeed, part of the logic behind the creation of the Internet, going back more than 40 years now, was to ensure continued communications even in the wake of a nuclear war. Redundancy and resilience are the key notions that shaped the structure of cyberspace. Yes, there are very important nodes here and there; but workarounds and fallbacks abound.

If there is a problem with Dr. Arquilla’s analysis it’s that is misses the forest for the trees. It’s not that we lack a battleship row, or that we’re not prepared for a surprise attack, the problem is that the war is engaged and we’re not responding in kind.

Skewed dollar amounts from dodgy surveys notwithstanding, a week does not go by when new information about yet another compromise of a government, contractor or critical infrastructure system being compromised. We lose valuable data, we lose money, we may lose our competitive edge in things both military and commercial . . . but for some reason the “surprise attack” metaphor remains one of the most popular, even if it is arguably the most inaccurate.

If you want to say that there are no Nazis or Imperial Japan, OK. If you want to say a full-on assault on our military hasn’t occurred  OK. Just stop talking about how something that has been going on every day for decades is insufficient to merit our attention and that an unexpected kick in the groin is just around the corner.

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