For the last few days the media has been reporting alleged hacking attacks on US, UK and German government targets originating from China. It’s to be expected of course as any new channel for covert information gathering will inevitably be exploited by zealous intelligence services. But what’s really interesting about such attacks is not that they are happening, but their game-changing nature. In much the same way that communications interception transformed intelligence gathering in the last Century, so hacking and other new forms of electronic information gathering will progressively change the shape of espionage throughout the 21st Century.
Hacking presents a new dimension for intelligence gathering. It has very different characteristics from human and communications intelligence. It is cheaper, faster and easier, requiring no expensive interception platforms or networks of assets. It also offers a sharper and more immediate context for a targeted attack. But it is more intrusive than passive communications monitoring and therefore more likely to be detected and traced. And the window of opportunity for a particular exploit might also be relatively short lived. But it is very well suited to the the fast-changing competitive nature of the Information Age.
This is just the start of the new intelligence game, made possible by emerging technologies. Because we’ve only scratched the surface of the possibilities presented by large-scale data fusion and mining. Open and closed source, intelligence gathering will become increasingly powerful, competitive and volatile. That’s the nature of the new business and political landscape. How should we respond? The answer is to go with the flow. Putting up barriers or isolating yourself from the rest of the global, networked community is not the answer. Because the real edge is in exploitation rather than possession of information. As I’ve often said, in the new world of electronic networking, openness, trust and risk management will increasingly beat secrecy, suspicion and caution.