War for the Web
28 05.13

Plan X and the Gamification of War

We’ve seen a lot of controversy over the gamification of war, a concept that generally refers to the separation of the act of killing with the process by which you kill. This can mean drone strikes, this can mean Apache attack helicopter strikes, and various other things. Ultimately, this is a process that the military uses to make the act of killing easier for our troops. That’s an important thing, it’s part of the propaganda machine that keeps the military moving. They did it in world war one, they did it in world war two, they did it in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq one; there’s nothing new about it. It really just amounts to the separation of strategy and the tools of war.

The Pentagon just announced a project called Plan X that will essentially gamify cyber war. It will eliminate the need for the average cyber soldier to understand the tools that they are using. Cyber-battle with China or Iran will no longer just be limited to network engineers and the like, but open to any soldier. From a military perspective, this makes a lot of sense. After all, the guys who dropped Little Boy out of the Enola Gay didn’t know how nuclear physics works, they just dropped a bomb. The goal of the pentagon is to apply the same principle to cyber-war.

There’s a definitive problem here though, and that’s that cyber-war isn’t like regular war. As things stand now, if the military wants to start a traditional conflict (you know, guns, tanks, soldiers) with any given country, there are fail-safes in place. I know Bush made it look easy, but we can’t really just go to war, there’s a whole host of things that have to happen first. Congress has to approve it (at least in theory), and then the military gets involved. There are rules of engagement, and the Geneva conventions, that outline the rules for a conflict, and the treatment of prisoners and enemies.

Cyber-war is pretty different; so far, it doesn’t have rules. China has demonstrated this point quite well. They constantly attack the United States and others and steal intellectual property, and then they pretend they didn’t do it or that it was a group of concerned citizens. We have no means of demonstrating otherwise. Even our own government has conducted cyber attacks carelessly. The Stuxnet virus attacked an Iranian nuclear facility, but rather than limiting its damage to that, it escaped into the real world and caused untold damage to consumer and businesses machines all over the world. When Israel used a virus to silence Syrian radar before a strike, they did so by undermining the security of Microsoft Certificates, which in turn leaves us all vulnerable.

Cyber war is different, it is by definition an attack on both civilian and military infrastructure simply by its very nature, and we don’t have rules in place to prevent escalation. That makes Plan X pretty scary.

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