Michael Schrage and the Duty to Protect Citizens From Cyber Attack

The United States has a long history of using force to defend the property and interests of its citizens. MIT Research Fellow Michael Schrage asks why responses to cyberattacks deviate from that precedent.

The United States has a long history of using force to defend the property and business interests of its citizens. This strategy has often led to controversy, especially when the military arm of America stretches abroad. But time and time again, the U.S. government has levied threats of invasion and conflict to protect the interests of its citizens.


MIT Research Fellow Michael Schrage asks why responses to cyberattacks on U.S. businesses deviate from that precedent. He explains his perspective in the following Big Think interview:

The recent history of worldwide cyberconflicts has Schrage thinking about a couple key topics:

"One is that ordinary citizens should be concerned about whether their data assets — and that includes everything from their social security numbers to their bank accounts to the way their mortgage is held. They should be concerned about how adequately protected that is. But not just — and this is important — not just by the financial institution or the retail institution, but by government."

One of the reasons we pay taxes is because our social contract places the responsibility for defense in the government's hand. Our tax dollars support efforts to protect citizen well-being. What Schrage is asking is where we draw the line that separates national security from e-security. Has that line already been crossed? Was there ever a line to begin with? Are the two inextricably linked?

"I believe this is a policy and a question of great, not just national import, but global import because America is a leading nation both in terms of technology and in terms of vulnerability and it raises important questions about what constitutes self-defense in this regard."

From here, Schrage voices the opinion that major cyberattacks shouldn't be treated simply as crimes to be investigated by the FBI. Hacking isn't just silly vandalism, he says. It's intentional malice that harms Americans and their assets. "Not cool," says Schrage. Not cool indeed.

For more from Michael Schrage, check out his new book The Innovator's Hypothesis, as well as his profile at Leigh Bureau.

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