“Information Security” versus “Cybersecurity”: Conceptual Challenges

Since 2016, there has been intense international scrutiny of Russia’s use of cyber-enabled disinformation and influence campaigns to affect domestic politics of other countries. Analysis has traced uses of viral “fake news” stories and manipulative spread of false, propagandistic, or extremist information to target susceptible populations and exploit societal vulnerabilities – swaying public attitudes, exacerbating ideational cleavages, and sowing doubt in democratic institutions. These incidents are frequently described as “cyberattacks.” Recent changes in U.S. cyber strategy explicitly cite the need to defend against and deter this type of Russian aggression. Heated debate has emerged over Internet content regulation and responsibilities of social media platforms to national security.

Meanwhile, uses of similar techniques by other actors, including Iran, China, and ISIS, demonstrate the potential for tactical emulation and proliferation of related tools. These events underscore a key conceptual tension that has long influenced debate over norms in cyberspace. While, beginning in the late-1990s, Russia and China led efforts to engage the international community in discussing norms to protect “information security” and “Internet sovereignty,” the U.S. and Western democracies objected to these concepts. Their inclusion of Internet content, media, and other cross-border information flows as potential vehicles of aggression was seen as justification for violations of “Internet freedom.” As the U.S. and democratic allies today seek to update their cyber strategies in response to use of cyber-enabled information operations, this talk examines implications for the future development of norms not only for the cyber domain but for the global Internet and its governance.


About the speaker

Dr. 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.


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