Hacking the Bomb begins its narrative with WarGames—a 1980s sci-fi movie about a teenager who inadvertently almost starts nuclear war by hacking into a nuclear control program within a U.S. computer. This is a common vignette within the cyber literature (see, for example, the introductions of Fred Kaplan’s Dark Territory as well as “Thermonuclear War”) and it represents what most scholars believe is the most dangerous potential implication of cyber operations—the cyber threat to nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3). As Erik Gartzke and Jon Lindsay conclude, “offensive cyber operations against NC3 raise the risk of nuclear war . . . today the proliferation and modernization of nuclear weapons may raise the risk slightly. Subversion of NC3 raises the danger of nuclear war slightly more. Cyberwar is not war per se, but in rare circumstances it may make escalation to thermonuclear war more likely.”
Cybersecurity is a relatively new foreign policy problem. A decade ago, it received little attention, but since 2013 the Director of National Intelligence has named cybersecurity risks the biggest threat facing the nation. The non-profit Council on Foreign Relations “Cyber Operations Tracker” contains almost 200 state sponsored attacks by 16 countries. The list includes one attack in 2005 when the data base starts, but over 20 last year. The bad news is that the threat is increasing; but the good academic news is that the problem is now attracting a new generation of bright young scholars–as illustrated by Ben Buchanan’s book and its reviewers.
No one is sure what effect Russia had on the 2016 presidential election. The U.S. intelligence community and private sector cybersecurity firms are confident that Russian intelligence agencies sponsored efforts to steal and release information from the Democratic National Committee, and from Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta. The stolen emails were mostly banal, but the Trump campaign used them as evidence that Clinton and her party were corrupt and untrustworthy. This may have had the effect of increasing support for Trump, or at least depressing the turnout among would-be Clinton voters. Even small shifts might have changed the result, given the razor-thin margins in key states. But the election was so peculiar in so many ways that it is difficult to attribute the outcome to a single cause. Alleged Russian ‘doxing’–the term for stealing and revealing private information–may or may not have been terribly important compared to other factors in a historically strange campaign.