Jackie Kerr Examines Conceptual Challenges of Cybersecurity and Information Security

On November 1, 2019, Oxford University's Centre for Technology and Global Affairs hosted Jackie Kerr, a Stanford University affiliated scholar, to discuss conceptual challenges in distinguishing cybersecurity and information security. Kerr started the presentation with a broad overview of disinformation and cyber-enabled international influence, drawing on an array of examples and comparisons with domestic activities and other forms of information dissemination. She argued that disinformation has long existed in other forms and used for various purposes in other contexts of geopolitical rivalry.

Kerr discussed the East-West disjuncture in perceptions of cyber threats. While China, Russia, and similarly minded nations have been aware of information threats for a long time, Western nations have been prioritizing dual policies of Internet freedom as global public good and national cybersecurity focusing on infrastructure protection, intelligence, and military security. She argued, however, that the West's dual policies have become schizophrenic: information flows can also be a threat to democracies, as demonstrated by Russian intrusions during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. And while Western officials and media now often refer to information manipulation campaigns as “cyberattacks,” the conceptual understanding of this activity has yet to catch up to reality. Incoherent conceptual thinking risks reactive mirror imaging of an approach better suited to the study of non-democratic countries. Kerr also discussed the risks and benefits associated with several ways that states have been dealing with not only the traditional understandings of cybersecurity, but also with the emerging danger of disinformation as a security threat. She ended the presentation by engaging the audience with broader questions about the natures of democracy and authoritarianism as well as their relations with information freedom and its control.

Jackie Kerr is a 2019-2020 Science and Technology Policy Fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is also a New America Cybersecurity Policy Fellow, and an Affiliate at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. Her research examines cyber conflict and cyber-enabled disinformation, Russian cyber strategy, and digital authoritarianism. Dr. Kerr holds a PhD and MA in Government from Georgetown University, and an MA in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies and BAS in Mathematics and Slavic Languages and Literatures from Stanford University. She has worked as a software engineer with Symantec and Comcast, and has held research fellowships in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Qatar.