Discussion Paper - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Protecting Cyberspace and the US National Interest

| September 2010


This paper is a working draft. The authors are interested in feedback. Please send your comments to michael_sechrist@hks.harvard.edu.



We assess 'protecting cyberspace,' while extremely important, does not rise to the level of a first-order national security challenge as countering nuclear proliferation and defeating al Qaeda because most threats to America's digital infrastructure do not undermine core security interests. Most challenges to cyberspace, such as cybercrime, cyberespionage and cyberterrorism, can be ably handled by domestic law enforcement and intelligence services. The exemption to this assessment would be so-called 'cyberwar' between nations; however, a sophisticated, serious digital attack on the US would likely be attributable and carried out by states in concert with conventional kinetic options — acts of war that would provide the US the legal, moral and military authorities to respond.

Recognizing cyberspace's role as a medium for security, communication and commerce, we detail five ways that the US can better protect cyberspace: establish a comprehensive strategy, maintain strong deterrents, strengthen public-private partnerships, avoid bureaucratic overreach, and forge an international consensus. By doing so, policymakers can make better-informed decisions about how to properly defend the country from threats to America's digital infrastructure.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Peritz, Aki J., and Michael Sechrist. “Protecting Cyberspace and the US National Interest.” Discussion Paper, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, September 2010.

The Authors