One of the common adages in the cyber world is that the domain favors the offense. Drawing on historical lessons in the air domain, however, one top military leader is more optimistic about the future of cybersecurity and defense.

The technological advancements and policies in place could shift the pendulum from favoring the attacker, Lt. Gen. Bradford Shwedo, director of command, control, communications and computers/cyber and chief information officer of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at an AFCEA event Dec. 4.

During the interwar period, Shwedo said, the common thinking was that bombers will always get through. But then game-changing technologies such as radios, radars, anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles began to emerge. The widespread proliferation of these technologies began to lead to an new adage.

“What you saw was the pendulum of warfare swinging from the bomber will always get through to ‘If it flies, it dies,’” Shwedo said.

Forces countered some of this technological advancement with stealth, swinging the pendulum back to some degree, Shwedo added, but he sees cyber as a realm in which advances in technologies and policies can produce their own countermeasures.

Advancements in artificial intelligence and quantum could become game changers for the defensive side.

Additionally, more aggressive policy postures combined with higher confidence in attribution could affect the calculus of malicious hackers.

“If I can emphatically say it was you, you’re at this location and this is what you did, boy that would change the opportunity of hacking in a New York minute,” Shwedo said.

As an example, the New York Times reported that U.S. Cyber Command had individually targeted Russian cyber operators ahead of the 2018 midterm elections to deter them from spreading misinformation, successfully avoiding a repeat of campaigns that impacted the 2016 presidential election.

“What you’re seeing is there are lots of opportunities for all of these advanced technologies to start swinging that pendulum,” Shwedo said.

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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