Tobias Liebetrau is a researcher at the Centre for Military Studies, University of Copenhagen. His research covers cybersecurity, emerging digital technology, critical (maritime) infrastructures, and the role of Big Tech in international politics. Tobias has published in journals as such International Political Sociology, International Studies Quarterly, European Journal of International Security, and Contemporary Security Policy. Tobias is currently part of the Ocean Infrastructure project at University of Copenhagen.
Jeppe T. Jacobsen is assistant professor at the Royal Danish Defence College. His research focus concerns states' political and military behaviour in cyberspace. This includes the development and deployment of cyber military and intelligence capabilities, their political motivations, institutional and operational obstacles as well as consequences for future warfare, international security and public-private relations.
Big Tech at War: Renegotiating the Role of Technology Companies in Global Cybersecurity Politics
When Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine on 24 February 2022, cyberattacks had already targeted Ukraine for weeks. In fact, since 2014 Ukrainian infrastructure has regularly been hit by cyberattacks – worst in 2015 when Russia caused an eight hour power outage for more the 200.000 Ukrainians. To the surprise of many analysts, more than a year into the war, the large destructive cyberattack has not happened. A key reason is that several large multinational tech companies – so-called Big Tech – have provided unprecedented support. Microsoft moved Ukraine’s IT infrastructure to its Cloud, Google provided free licensing of its products, Palantir offered sophistical data analytics software, and Starlink satellites enabled Ukraine to keep its critical communication running. In short, the Russo-Ukrainian War demonstrates that Big Tech now plays a decisive role in conflict, not because they are contractually obliged to but because they consider or frame it as a duty. Big Tech’s entry into the digital battlefield questions international political categories and boundaries, particularly in terms of who has the right to be protected, by whom, and how. Drawing on the concept of infrastructural politics, the article explores the renegotiation of these questions and the realities of Big Tech going to war. It traces the ways in which big tech companies emerge as “truth carriers,” “sites of expertise,” “facilitators of war fighting”, “humanitarians” and “frontline (cyber)soldiers”. In doing so, we give analytical attention to the socio-technical infrastructures (devices, databases, procedures, practices etc.) that are mobilized in forming the multiplicity of Big Tech at war. This analysis allows us to problematize Big Tech companies by showing how their cybersecurity practices constitutes and are constituted by the current developments in world affairs and to what political consequences.