No war can be raised to a state-of-the-art level. Art must be beautiful, in the sense of producing a renewed faith of acceptance and I’m not sure war could ever do that. “The Art of Cyber Conflict” is about the new types of wars being led in the digital sphere.
Yet despite the absence of face-to-face combat or maybe exactly because of that, the author Henry Sienkiewicz points out that cyber conflicts can indeed have devastating consequences.
The main purpose of the author is to make a parallel to another well-known book about fighting strategy – “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu and reinforce the new meaning of war in cyberspace.
As a slight digression from the main point of this review, I found it curious that the author’s name resembles the name of another favorite writer of mine, the Polish Nobel Prize winner Henryk Sienkiewicz, whose “Quo Vadis” is among my top 30 best novels of all time.
Except for the warlike state in the era of Christ, there are no other major similarities between these two books. If you are interested in a book that will feed your soul, the pick “Quo Vadis”, I highly recommend it.
But if you want to digest a few unpalatable truths about how wars are planned and executed, you might as well get the one by Henry, not the one by Henryk.
How Well Do You Know Your Adversaries?
“The Art of Cyber Conflict” features a modern theme, a link to a popular “enemy” – China, and a comparison to war wisdom that stays evergreen across centuries and cultures. The author Henry Sienkiewicz is (or used to be?) a member of the U.S. military. So the fact that he wants to understand his adversaries through the prism of an ancient Chinese military strategist is not a huge surprise.
The most striking revelation for me, or anyone else reading this book presumably, was the notion about how much of the fight happens in the mental realm.
The six principles explained in Sun Tzu’s book “The Art of War” are not about direct conflict and can be applied to the cybersphere: “know yourself, know your enemy, know the environment, use all of your advantages, exploit the enemy’s weaknesses, be deceptive and attack along unexpected lines.”
I guess that there is no better way to defeat an enemy than knowing their strategy and always being one step ahead. Fighting in the elusive space of electronics assumes difficulties in identifying an enemy.
The art of war, including the art of cyber conflict, must be based on deep penetration into the enemy’s mind. But when your enemy is ghostlike as it is the case in the cyberspace, different rules apply.
There is a parallel to be drawn between the age described in the Sun Tzu’s military strategy book and current China. Both Chinas are characterized by unprecedented growth. What was happening in the era of Sun Tzu is very similar to what is happening in modern China.
Can You Create Enemies with a Fearful Mindset?
One thing that made a lasting impression – the Chinese believed that people are inherently bad or predetermined to be evil without control. Evil is in the human nature in the sense of the old Latin proverb “Homo homini lupus est”.
Chinese accepted that humans are predisposed to act like wolves, which is just another proof of the ignorance about the true wolf nature. And I’d like to hope so – human nature, too.
Such a stance creates a warlike mindset. Talking so much about how to lead a war encourages fear and warmongering. I don’t like calling war art, but I guess that’s one way to rationalize it and dehumanize it when it’s imminent and inevitable.
The Cautionary Tale of Ubiquitous Cyber Dangers
Living in fear never helped anyone but living in caution does help occasionally. I’d rather be a pacifist and crucify war wisdom proponents altogether but, in today’s growing cyber volatility and angst, I risk being labeled as crazy.
Let’s keep it real and admit that, sometimes, there are dangerous people on the web that do commit cybercrimes, the least of which are stolen credit card passwords. This is a chance to spot those rotten apples more easily.
I’d rather not think about cybercrime intelligence, but this book was great to alert me that it is not only in the realm of Netflix series.
The perfect use of this book is to enhance your skills in spotting vulnerabilities in the ever-expanding IoT network which looms on the horizon. Otherwise, too much high-level military strategizing, which I’m sure I won’t be using, ever.
I hope that others won’t be using it to fight endless senseless wars or to be “crucified again”, as the risen Jesus relentlessly continued to walk his path when Peter asked him “Quo vadis?” (Whither goes thou?) at the gates of Rome.