This Strategic Dossier charts and contextualises the key developments and trends that have shaped the cyber domain since the 1950s.

Evolution of the Cyber Domain: The Implications for National and Global Security

Cyber security has become a focal point for conflicting domestic and international interests, and increasingly for the projection of state power. The military utility of the cyber domain is linked to the economic and social potential of information and communications technologies (ICTs), while technologies with military and national-security applications have become essential to the conduct of modern life.

In light of this, Evolution of the Cyber Domain provides a holistic review of the strategic, operational and technical issues at the centre of the international cyber-security debate. The Dossier charts and contextualises the key developments and trends that have shaped the cyber domain since the 1950s. As well as tracking the events and decisions underlying the military potential of ICTs, it examines the issues and policies that affect global governance of the internet.

The Dossier analyses:

  • The geopolitics of international cyber security and technological development.
  • The challenges of creating methods for managing conflict within the cyber domain based on international law.
  • The tension between issues of privacy, freedom of information and national security.
  • Intelligence as a state practice in peace and war.
  • The development and use of cyber military capabilities.

The Dossier is an important point of reference for further research and analysis on complex cyber-security issues, and it provides a series of insights into national positions, as well as regional and global agreements and policies. Evolution of the Cyber Domain is a useful resource for readers who seek a comprehensive picture of cyber affairs, and who wish to understand the social, economic and politico-military challenges that have guided the development and use of ICTs in the past six decades. By summarising the ways in which governments are addressing these challenges at the strategic level, it helps prepare decision-makers and researchers involved in the formulation of cyber-security policy, strategy and analysis. The Dossier also contains a glossary of the key terms and concepts in the cyber-security dialogue.

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  • Foreword

    ‘Cyber’ is not a technology. It is a political notion anchored in the convergence of technologies such as radios, telephones, computers, satellites communications and undersea cables. Relying on the use of the electromagnetic spectrum, cyberspace functions as a social scene, financial marketplace and political battleground. Due to the growing importance of ICTs in modern life, cyberspace is simultaneously global and local. It is global in its omnipresent nature and capacity...
  • Introduction

    Anatoly Kitov, Paul Baran and Donald Davies – a Soviet computer scientist, an American engineer and a Welsh computer scientist respectively – all envisioned in the late 1950s a computerised, interconnected communication system. While Kitov’s initiative never moved forward, Baran and Davies were able to continue creating the scientific foundations of computerised communication networks. The domain they envisioned, later labelled ‘cyberspace’, was brought into existence by a procession of dedicated...
  • Chapter One: The 1960s

    The Second World War highlighted the value of calculating machines and computing power for scientific and military purposes. Computers were able to support a variety of tasks and functions such as census-taking, missile-trajectory calculation, cryptanalysis and payroll management. Computer-based calculations had proved useful for optimising aerial bombing, cracking the German Enigma code, and splitting the atom. The rise of computing power fed into the ongoing ideological–industrial race between communism and capitalism...
  • Chapter Two: The 1970s

    The 1970s saw the development of computer and networking technologies split into two branches that initially had little in common. Mainframe computers used to perform computational tasks filled entire rooms. Connecting these mainframes required special computers linked to each node to reconcile the proprietary features of their hugely expensive, tailor-made hardware and software systems. Networking occurred over telephone lines that were operated by monopolies, and were leased at great expense...
  • Chapter Three: The 1980s

    The deregulation of telecommunications services that began in the late 1970s accelerated in the 1980s, reinforcing the growth of the microprocessor, personal-computer and home-electronics markets. After the separation of the military branch of the ARPANET in 1983, the word 'internet’ came to refer to the civilian portion of the system that would soon connect thousands of research institutions across the world. Alongside improved connectivity, these developments enabled Western societies and...
  • Chapter Four: The 1990s

    In the early 1990s, the development and use of what was beginning to be called ‘cyberspace’ held two promises. There was potential for a global infrastructure of information exchange as a result of technological innovation and continuing US political leadership. But civil-liberties and privacy groups still harboured hope that the internet, as an emerging environment with distinct habits and culture, would remain free from government oversight and regulation. The decade...
  • Chapter Five: The 2000s

    The first decade of the twenty-first century saw rapid saturation of the cyber landscape, bringing not just the interconnectivity of countries and institutions but also of people, devices and applications. Widely deployed technologies such as smartphones, Wi-Fi and social media created new markets and social practices that affected hundreds of millions of users worldwide. The hope that cyberspace would be free from conflict and ideological contestation withered. ICT had come...
  • Chapter Six: The 2010s

    The United States’ pre-eminence in ICTs and the cyber domain has been a source of growing international tension in the 2010s, as there remains a wide gap between the US and the rest in technological capability, strategic leadership and military-operational performance. This tension has been exacerbated by the development of cyberspace as an operational domain in US military doctrine; allegations that the US and Israel partnered in a computer-enabled sabotage...
  • Chapter Seven: Internet Governance

    The rapid growth of the internet in the 1990s increased concerns about the political implications of the new technology. Chief among them has been how the internet’s Domain Name System (DNS) – the network’s ‘phone book’, and a core element of its infrastructure – should be managed. The DNS has been under effective control of the US government since it was established, in 1983, although this oversight was only marginally...
  • Chapter Eight: Normative Approaches to International Cyber Security

    The term ‘cyber security’ can refer to a broad, complex set of intertwined issues, ranging from standardisation to fundamental rights and freedoms. Yet the term ‘international cyber security’ refers more narrowly to uses of ICTs that are incompatible with, or threaten, international peace and security. Central to the topic are ‘hard’ security issues such as the definition of, and the threshold for, a cyber attack that constitutes the use of...
  • Chapter Nine: Intelligence and the Internet

    The advent of modern telecommunications, with the transmission in 1844 of the first telegraph message, began the evolution of a highly specialised branch of intelligence collection, signals intelligence (SIGINT). This practice facilitated the collection of ever-greater quantities of information, with a significantly reduced risk of detection. The primary purpose of intelligence is to provide a comprehensible narrative to policymakers, thereby reducing the uncertainty with which they are required to operate. The...
  • Chapter Ten: Military Cyber Affairs

    While the military utility of advanced ICTs is hard to overestimate, military cyber operations still play a relatively minor part in states’ routine cyber activities. Focusing instead on intelligence gathering, espionage and exploitation, these activities are often conducted by civilian intelligence agencies in support of both political and strategic decision-making. Moreover, most current reports of cyber attacks and warfare do not concern the core domain, the global information-technology infrastructure, but...
  • Conclusion

    Since the inception of computer networking, two parallel shifts can be tracked in the development and use of ICTs. Firstly, computer and communication technologies were brought together by computer networks that used telephone and radio networks to transfer information, making data a high-value commodity. The utility of information as an instrument of national power only increased with the development of the internet, wireless networks and smartphones. The second development was...
  • Appendix I: International Instruments Related to Computer Security

    Cyber security has become a focal point for conflicting domestic and international interests, and increasingly for the projection of state power. The military utility of the cyber domain is linked to the economic and social potential of information and communications technologies (ICTs), while technologies with military and national-security applications have become essential to the conduct of modern life. In light of this, Evolution of the Cyber Domain provides a holistic review...
  • Appendix II: ISO Information Security Standards

    Cyber security has become a focal point for conflicting domestic and international interests, and increasingly for the projection of state power. The military utility of the cyber domain is linked to the economic and social potential of information and communications technologies (ICTs), while technologies with military and national-security applications have become essential to the conduct of modern life. In light of this, Evolution of the Cyber Domain provides a holistic review...
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Toomas Hendrik Ilves gives 2015 Alastair Buchan Lecture 

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia will deliver the 2015 Alastair Buchan Lecture on 1 December 2015. A pioneer of information-technology development and e-governance, President Ilves's ambitious cyber strategy has made his country a global front-runner in technical innovation, international connectivity and internet freedom. He is also a proponent of a strong NATO to protect Europe's eastern frontier.