International Agreement for Control of Cyber Weapons

Month: January, 2016


Written by our Guest Author: Herbert O’Yardley


For reasons that will forever remain unknown, Roche has invited me to make another entry on his soon to be “must read”, viral blog (which if I had a computer and Internet access I might even visit from time to time). So I’ll just say right now that if I were you, I would not read this – and I don’t even know what it’s going to say yet! I just know that it is probably right, and that that is almost certainly a BAD thing. But…..What do I know? I’ve been wrong about everything lately; except the Fed. And you don’t want to get me started on that – although my thoughts from 5-6 years ago may still be on my own blog if you can find it.


For Christmas this year, I bought my Old Man a Chess Set – which was not that easy to find for obvious reasons, like anyone under 35 (or maybe even much older) would rather play some video game or be part of a multiplayer, online gaming platform. Now before we go any further, stop and think about that for a minute. Chess is a very complex game; perhaps the most complex ever created. In fact, I can remember a time – not so long ago – when an IBM computer beating a Grand Master was an international media event heralding the coming of the new “Information Age”. Strategy in Chess has been studied by some of the brightest minds in History, and forms the basis for much Military, Political and Business Strategy, although you might never guess that from the results of so-called “strategies” in those fields. But however complex the strategies in Chess may be, and however sophisticated the tools of analysis, the strategies required in instantaneous, multiplayer “Cybergames” are orders of magnitude more complex. This means that using standard tools like Game Theory to develop and evaluate a possible Cyber Treaty (or Cyber War for that matter) is like using a magnifying glass to study Particle Physics (which I’m sure most of us have tried at some point).

Last Summer, I finally threw away a dozen or so Math books that I had held onto since College. Of course now I know it was a big mistake, but at the time it seemed like the thing to do. Among these were several books on Linear Algebra. Linear Algebra is particularly germane to a discussion of Strategy, War and Treaties because it allows the theoretician to create a set of rules and then study their consequences on a group of predetermined parameters. As such, it forms the basis for Game Theory. Game Theory had limited practical value even in its heyday due to the deterministic nature of the structure and rules of a game on its ultimate outcome. But in a world were even the best players have no idea what they are really doing or the true costs of their actions, where there are no “rules” – only winning and losing, and were the non-rules change at random or the at whim of the strongest players, there is not much room for Theory or Strategy, only the survival of the fittest – or the least fit if you prefer.

Of course, Roche and I have already tried to apply Game Theory to other contexts – this time to Business Strategy – and proposed the ill-fated concept of “Super-Games” – which I think I once said was our ticket to a Nobel Price (Wrong Again.). The Mathematics of Supergames have been explored to a limited extent; but while they are extremely sophisticated, they do little more than expand the structure and length of a game, allowing more complex strategies to be executed. Our approach added several more levels of complexity by allowing the rules to change without notice and players to enter and exit at random. It also added the notion of asymmetry – which allowed certain players to act outside the existing structure of the game, as well as allowing the formation and dissolution of coalitions and other partnerships, and the sharing of information and the use of deception. All of this is of course prevalent in the Business World. We made no claims about being able to formalize the Mathematics behind such a system, but we were able to create a simple set of rules which defined this Supergame, and reach some very tentative conclusions about the role of Strategy under these conditions. The fact that the paper was rejected by at least 24 journals reflects the imagination and insight of the Business World. But I don’t need to tell you that. All you have to do is watch CNBC for a few minutes or read the front page of the Fox Street Journal. Unfortunately, this “MBA Mentality” – as I like to call it – has infected every part of Society and Government, including the Civil Servants (if there still are such things) who would draft and negotiate a Cyber Treaty – or start a Cyber War – which is increasingly probably one and the same thing.


Traditional Theories and Strategies don’t offer much guidance in a World based on Cyber- and Super-Games. This is because the individuals involved in both treaty negotiation and potentially sanctionable behavior are likely to be far more capable of circumventing standard safeguards than previous generations. For actors raised on rapidly changing environments, both the contents and the enforcement mechanisms of any treaty must be based on a new set of principles that is far more complex and flexible than traditional methods to have any chance of success. Particularly in Technology-based environments, capabilities and actions move so quickly that it is literally possible for a treaty to be obsolete before it has even been negotiated. Thus, sanctionable behavior must be defined in a broader, non-specific way, which works against the basic nature of treaty negotiation. Similarly, new mechanisms must be devised to tie parties to sanctions and unwanted outcomes in an immediate and costly way.

At some point Roche and I looked into identifying the “necessary and sufficient” conditions for successful International Treaties based on historical analysis and a review of the literature. To my surprise, this was not a subject of great interest, although a few conditions received some attention, and are probably worth noting. I will mention three which should be useful in the present context: 1) The treaty should include all relevant parties in the negotiations, 2) Violations must be clearly defined and sanctions specified in advance, and 3) All violations and sanctions must be handled in a non-discriminatory way. Although these principles are still “necessary” and useful guidelines, they are clearly not “sufficient” to guarantee a successful Cyber Treaty due the rapid, unpredictable changes endemic in the basic structure and nature of the activities involved. Thus, devising a successful Cyber Treaty will be extremely difficult and require great knowledge and creativity. In other words, just forget about it.

But there is still one Law of Game Theory that’s hard to argue. Make the Rules, and you may have a better chance of winning. But that’s only if you’re smart enough to see clearly several moves in advance. And that’s still not easy, even for the experts. Of course, if all else fails you can always just kill your adversary, or better yet, beat him to death with a hammer or cut off a few of his fingers. Just watch “Casino” again and see what I mean. In any case, it’s probably best not to bet against the House.


Ever once in a while I come up with a good idea, and in the context of a Cyber Treaty here it is. If the use of new Internet and Social Media Technology really is changing the way individuals think and act – and there is no doubt that it has had profound effects – particularly with regard to the rapidly changing, interactive, strategic situations you might find in Cybergames, then it makes sense to let this “new breed” play a key role in structuring a Cyber Treaty – even if they are only 13 years old kids, failing most subjects in school, who couldn’t carry on an intelligent conversation with their favorite Action Hero. (Just remember, these are the Bankers, Doctors, and Lawyers of tomorrow.)  So instead of Governments or International Institutions drafting and negotiating a treaty to limit Cyber Weapons and Warfare, why not let the individuals most familiar with the (un-) realities of Cyberspace create the treaty through an open, interactive platform designed for this purpose. The site could be set up as either a Cybergame or a Wikepedia-like knowledge platform where ideas and actions could be vetted and tested by the community. For example, a game could be developed which closely resembles the actual structure of the global Political Economy, with Nations, National and International Institutions, various types of Infrastructure, and other Economic, Social and Political factors. Players would seek ways to disrupt and destroy other nations, and through their strategies and actions, safeguards could be developed to minimize the results of those activities. Over time it should be possible to identify a set of rules or procedures which would ultimately eliminate the treat of Cyber War, and these principles could form the basis of a future Cyber Treaty.  Of course this has probably already been going on for a long time in a basement somewhere in Virginia……and Moscow, and Beijing, or at a University or Tech company in a town or city near you.


Anyone who has ever read anything I’ve written in recent years knows that I am extremely pessimistic about any sort of remedial action to improve the Sorry State of Man and the World. For me, these activities typically fail to either address the core problems, or provide a lasting solution to even the most superficial aspects of the mess we have created. They may be done in good faith and have the best intentions, but in the end nothing ever changes, and things just seem to get worse. Until we all understand that we are in this (sinking) ship together, no Treaty, Threat or Action is going to stop War, Hate and Stupidity. It will only give one group of idiots a temporary advantage over their rivals, and in the process breed more hate and resentment, causing another round of stupidity which wastes (limited) global resources, human energy and time. We have to do better, as individuals, nations and members of whatever communities we populate. I still believe it’s possible. But it’s getting increasingly difficult to Keep the Faith.

Herbert O. Yardley


Rumination on the Coming Cyber War

By Herbert O. Yardley, guest editor.


A friend of mine likes to joke that if the Grid ever goes down, everyone under the age of 35 will be dead within 3 days from starvation, media withdrawal and having to think for themselves. This fits well with the claim that “We are just 7 meals away from anarchy” thanks to the introduction of Just-In-Time inventory control to the nation’s (and world’s) food delivery system. So perhaps there is something to this Cyber Treaty thing after all.

But, as one who has never owned a cell phone, does not have Internet access, has never banked, traded stocks or made a purchase online I see things from a different perspective. Sure a Cyber Attack could throw the global financial system into chaos; but can it really do more harm than the World’s Central Banks or the large cadre of Harvard MBAs trading trillions of dollars, marks and yen unsupervised on a 24/7 global basis have already done? I doubt it. And even if some high level global Strategist tries to meltdown a few “enemy” nuclear reactors, or shutdown Facebook or Amazon for a few weeks; is that any more dangerous than Curtis Lemay (the Head of SAC) purportedly violating Soviet airspace at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis in hopes of provoking an incident that would justify a US first strike? Estimated “fallout”, 150-250 million dead, but the near total destruction of the USSR’s military capability. So let’s put things into perspective here.

The real question – which no one is even asking, let alone trying to solve – is this: “How can we improve basic Human Nature so that War of any kind, Hate, and the so-called “Strategic” calculus that has contributed so much to the present sorry state of the World are no longer acceptable to even the most Neanderthal Governments and persons?”. I may be crazy, but I believe this problem can be solved, and in less than 3 generations if the “best and brightest” from all nations and fields resist the temptation to work for and enable the worst elements which seem to dominate Government and Business.


For reasons that remain obscure, I read the Bible last Summer for the first time, and among other things the story of the Tower of Babel stands out in my mind, particularly in the current context. For me there are two key lessons: First, the God of the Bible is a jealous, hateful, petty god, who feared the potential power of a united Mankind, particularly one that could build a tower to Heaven (This, like everything else, was explored in a classic South Park which provides further insight into the matter). As a result He destroyed the Tower, and replaced a universal language with a multiplicity of tongues so that men could not communicate with each other. The rest as they say is History. But perhaps even more disturbing is the idea that Man was made in this God’s image. While that would seem to explain everything, it almost certainly guarantees a future Cyber War since new technologies provide a vehicle for seamless global communication which poses a serious threat to current national and international institutions and the established global power structure. Roche and I have addressed this issue elsewhere using a new concept we call Asygnosis. Unfortunately, the idea was universally panned by the academic community and remains unknown, although we still discuss it occasionally.

The problem, of course, is that to those desperately seeking to maintain their fragile grip on global Wealth, Power and Control, Cyber Weapons and Cyber Warfare seem like a cheap, expedient option. And since the old “Military-Industrial Complex” has been replaced by a Military-Technology alliance, “What’s good for Google is good for the global strategic position of the US” as Charlie Wilson might have said – although we can rest assured that he’s rolling over in his grave at the very thought of such a thing. The same goes for tech companies in other countries. In a world defined by two-dimensional computer and cell phone screens, whoever controls the flow of data, financial and economic transactions, and communications thinks they control everything. But as a former Painter I can assure you that no matter how closely a two-dimensional surface appears to represent Reality, it is at best no more than an Illusion. And in the case of many new technologies, they promote a very convincing “illusion” which has a plethora of dangerous implications; the threat of Cyber Warfare being just one of them.


The main problem with much new Telecommunication and Internet Technology (and I have been talking about this for at least a decade) is the “de-humanizing” – for lack of a better word – effect it has on users. This is clearly evident in the general loss of “intimacy” among people, and the inability of almost everyone to deal effectively with simple social interactions and situations. For me, the epiphany came a few years ago during a family Christmas gathering when my nieces and nephew – who were sitting on a couch next to each other – texted among themselves rather than turning their heads and speaking face to face, which would of course have included anyone present in their conversation. It is important to stress that it is exactly this type of technology-driven social interaction that makes the likelihood of a Cyber War so high. As “reality” becomes condensed to a computer or cell phone screen, the real “human” costs and consequences of any action become irrelevant. Instead, the calculus becomes: “How many hits would a major Cyber Attack get on YouTube or other Social Media platforms, and how can that response be controlled and monetized to the fullest?” And don’t think some of the “smartest” minds haven’t already figured this out. In fact a recent study of the top ten topics on Social Media in 2015 included no less than 6 major disasters, including the 2 Paris Bombings and the Earthquake in Nepal. So don’t discount a Cyber War as part of a major Corporate or Political advertising campaign.

The other major problem with many new technologies is the false sense of knowledge and reliability they offer users. Once again Roche and I explored this subject in a widely rejected study of an Intelligence-based software product. The only difference we could find in the results of this product versus conventional methods was that its users were far more confident in their mediocre results. Once again this bodes ill for the coming Cyber War, since Strategist are likely to downplay or neglect altogether the true costs of attack and at the same time feel extremely confident about their (mis-) calculations. Wikepedia is a poor substitute for Knowledge. Of course, the irony here is that the most developed nations have the most to lose in an all-out Cyber War, since the third or more of global population that still struggles for food and clean water on a daily basis would remain largely unaffected by a major Cyber Attack.


There is, however, one thing for sure. The day after the Great Cyber War the Sun will still rise, birds will still sing, and the Earth’s vegetation will continue to convert sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into energy for growth and oxygen. (Note that this may not have been the case after the Great Nuclear – Nuckuler for you Republicans – War that so many dreamed of for so long.) There is unfortunately another (near) certainty. And that is that the remnants of Human Civilization will soon reassemble, led by the most malevolent, egomaniacal elements to quickly rebuild barriers to fellowship and free expression. It will not take long before the lessons of the last Cyber War lead to the development of even more powerful methods to address perceived threats and control the “masses”. So, Cyber War or Cyber Treaty? The answer lies in whichever suites the whims and perceived interests of the most powerful at the moment, especially if the projected results might hurt their competitors even more than themselves. Flip a coin. Either way we all lose.

I like to say that we have the ability to turn this World into a true Paradise – eliminate Hunger, Disease, Fear and Want; and that’s all before breakfast. The only barrier is Human Nature. Improving that is a problem worthy of our full attention and dedication. But what do I know? I’ve been wrong about everything lately.