2022 Conference on International Cyber Security| 8-9 November 2022
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Panel 8


Militarising the Cyber Conversation: Analogies and Discourses

Myriam Dunn Cavelty

Myriam Dunn Cavelty is a senior lecturer for security studies and deputy for research and teaching at the Center for Security Studies (CSS). She studied International Relations, History, and International Law at the University of Zurich. She was a visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies (Brown University) in 2007 and fellow at the stiftung neue verantwortung in Berlin, Germany 2010–2011. Her research focuses on the politics of risk and uncertainty in security politics and changing conceptions of (inter-)national security due to cyber issues (cyber-security, cyber-war, critical infrastructure protection) in specific.

Twitter - @cybermyri


Lennart Maschmeyer

Lennart Maschmeyer is a Senior Researcher at the Center for Security Studies at ETH Zurich. He holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Toronto and an MPhil in International Relations from the University of Oxford. Lennart’s research examines the subversive nature of cyber power, focusing on its operational challenges and strategic limitations. In particular, he has studied the use of cyber operations in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict since 2014. As part of this research, Lennart is also investigating the effectiveness of digital disinformation as a subversive instrument. A second pillar of Lennart’s research agenda critically examines knowledge production processes in cybersecurity and resulting bias and distortions.



Not every successful hack is successful: Moving from a narrative of incidents to an understanding of effects

Why do we hardly ever hear of cyber-operations that failed? The history of cybersecurity in politics is told as a sequence of “cyber-incidents”, intentionally orchestrated intrusions into computer systems. The overall cyber-security situation is getting worse, so the common understanding, as demonstrated by the rising frequency of cyber-incidents launched to serve political or strategic goals. What is noteworthy in this narrative is that the “hack” itself is presented as necessary proof for success, even if no related political or strategic effect is discernible. Even more curious, in cases where there is no effect at all, or there is a negative effect for the intruders, the hack is presented as a proof of concept (“See! It can be done!”) and a harbinger of cyber-doom (“See what was almost done!”). This way of thinking about cyber-incidents is at the heart of problematic and overblown threat imaginaries that keep the spectre of cyber-war alive. This paper aims to improve our understanding of this phenomenon and potentially correct the narrative formation through three main contributions. First, we integrate insights from science and technology studies, social psychology, and critical security studies to develop a theory of the functions cyber-incidents fulfil in cyber-threat narratives. Second, we conduct a case study on “Triton” (2017) to show how these mechanisms lead to distorted threat representations. In the third part, we develop a classification scheme that allows a more informed discussion of first, second, and even third order effects of cyber-incidents.