A History of Cyberspace

Book editor: Eneken Tikk-Ringas; published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies,

London; December 2015.

Reviewed by: Joseph W. Vann, Marshall Center

Evolution of the Cyber Domain: The Implications for National and Global Security is a rare collection that explains how the cyber domain began. What makes this book appealing is the skill with which the editor and contributors take a technical subject and present it in a superb storytelling style. The book details a sequence of events that come together to inform, remind and educate the reader about what is easily taken for granted — the evolution of the cyber domain.

At first glance, the book could be mistaken for a technical publication. But every paragraph is rich in content, and the layout and style propel the book forward as if it’s a technical thriller rather than an encyclopedic publication.

For cyber security strategy and policy professionals, this book is a must read and should be added to personal professional libraries. The book is documented with excellent references that allow for additional research and understanding. Moreover, the individual chapters are useful as stand-alone documents that can educate readers who don’t have the time or inclination to read the entire book.

The chapters are skillfully arranged and detail the development of the cyber domain logically and understandably. The use of a glossary in the opening breaks with tradition and smartly aligns cyber terminology in alphabetical order to specific chapters. This approach furthers the reader’s ability to grasp terminology specific to cyber evolution. This book will appeal to both the novice and expert. For the novice, it beautifully introduces the unknown; for the expert, it provides all historical and technical events that gave rise to the cyber domain.

The second part of the book’s title can’t be overlooked because it is equally central to the authors’ theme. The implications for national and global security are skillfully woven into the book. The reader is reminded of the geopolitical situation in the 1950s and 1960s and how the technological surprise of the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik 1 triggered the Eisenhower administration to take deliberate measures to respond to fears that the United States was falling behind the Soviet Union in science and technology. This history offers perspective, before it was apparent to the inventors and users of cyberspace, on why the cyber domain would play a significant role in national and global security.

While most know the role the U.S. Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) played in the development of the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), the book explains the role of ARPA in relation to the bigger defense industrial complex and its role in developing computer information sharing technologies needed to meet military challenges. The authors nicely reveal how many of the ideas and concepts that kicked off the ARPANET were actually germinating elsewhere at the same time. It also explains how the U.S. identified a compelling need to develop better command and control (C2) networks that reduced the fragility of early missile C2 systems. This bit of storytelling advances the reader’s appreciation of the number of non-ARPA individuals and entities involved in the cyber evolution and its technological impact on national security.

With the number of contributors outside of ARPA quite large, the Pentagon financed what was then expensive equipment and made it available to the best and brightest. Effectively linking computers to one another supported pooling of resources and accelerated further sharing of ideas. The potential of what began as a bold ARPA experiment that became the ARPANET was quickly recognized for its potential to improve U.S. operational C2 systems. By giving the reader a sense of the logic of the day within the context of Cold War concerns, the authors infuse a sense of perspective of what dominated national-level decision-making of the day. The book stresses why the U.S., and to a lesser extent Western governments, understood the economic importance of developments in the cyber domain and why they purposefully restricted dissemination of cyber knowledge and related technologies to the Soviet Union, for fear the communists would use them for military applications.

In successive chapters, the book walks the reader through technical developments in the cyber domain in a cadence that highlights new technical discoveries and solutions to challenges while focusing on the importance of the cyber domain to national security. When the military branch of the ARPANET was separated from the civilian portion, the civilian side was able to establish links with scientists around the world. This created a need for technologies that could support and improve ever-growing connectivity requirements. This connectivity proved to be a key enabler that stimulated growth in new technologies and further widened the technology gap with Eastern Bloc countries.

The book consistently exposes the reader to technical and software developments and how each prompted innovation that would contribute to the much larger evolution of the cyber domain. When mapping the evolution of cyber technology from the 1970s through the 1990s, the writers provide a clear appreciation of how and why the cyber evolution was impacted by growing commercial applications that created new customers and, in turn, demand for new technology.

The increasing sophistication of hardware and software created the need for Internet governance. The authors focus on the evolution of various government forums and the challenges and considerations of managing connectivity. This provides a clear understanding of how Internet governance evolved and why limited “government” intrusion in the Internet may actually be responsible for its enormous utility and growth.

The final chapters paint a clear and surprisingly contemporary picture of the importance of cyber security and the value that cyber plays in supporting the intelligence community. While carefully avoiding or promoting a debate as to the role of the cyber domain in the revolution in military affairs, readers cannot help arriving at their own assessment of the pivotal role that cyber plays in the modern day military and national security.

This exceptional book should enjoy wide readership among those interested in the cyber field, but herein is the book’s greatest flaw: its price. At 90 British pounds, about U.S. $128, its steep price will likely limit availability, robbing this book of the readership it deserves.

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