With ominous music and frenetically paced visuals, Lockheed warns of hackers who seek notoriety, attacks on critical infrastructure, and theft of corporate intellectual property and private medical data. The music then becomes triumphant as Lockheed assures us that its employees in polos and khakis (much more respectable than the hackers’ hoodies) will protect us from “cyber weapons.”
Since at least the 1990s, policymakers and experts have seen cyber attacks as a potential threat to U.S. national security. However, as this 2013 marketing video from Lockheed Martin, the United States’ largest defense contractor, demonstrates, cybersecurity is acquiring a military facade. This militarization lumps together disparate cybersecurity challenges as being one “cyber threat” to national security, which supposedly requires military response. This effort is at best misguided, and at worst ill-intentioned.
The reality of the cybersecurity situation in the United States is indeed serious. Despite all the martial rhetoric and even the creation of a military Cyber Command in 2008, the United States seemed unable to prevent Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. We continue to see almost daily reports of massive data breaches affecting the private information of millions of Americans
So, in September 2018, the Trump administration released an even more aggressive Department of Defense cybersecurity strategy that would allow the military to engage in more offensive cyberattacks—euphemistically called “defend forward”. Regrettably, these post-2016 government attempts to take the problem of cybersecurity more seriously are still misplaced. These efforts merely double down on the militarization of cybersecurity that contributed to the United States’ failure to prevent Russian election interference in 2016.
More of the same from the military and its contractors cannot counter the problems created by fake news and social media manipulation, or protect private networks in a way that will be both effective and respectful of civil liberties. But until we change how we perceive and respond to hacking, companies like Lockheed Martin will continue to see dollar signs and spin out flashy, shallow and puffed up ads in to lure willing customers.