Saturday, 30 June 2018

Putting the Fun Back into Cyber Warfare

Sometimes it is good to read publications outside the usual IT & Technology realm that we often tend to focus on. In the issue of the NewStatesman for the week 4th to 10th May PhD candidate at the Royal Holloway, University of London, Andreas Haggman introduces the reader in his article "Why so serious? Introducing a fun take on cyber war" to a new kind of digital war gaming he has come up with to enhance and improve understanding around cyber warfare and how it is conducted, raising awareness and getting people not usually involved with the subject to think about the many dimensions and fronts that cyber war can be affecting.

It also works as a networking exercise, introducing senior policy and decision-makers to each other and providing an opportunity to talk to better understand what their counterpart is doing in their field. That said, it is quite astonishing how anyone in this day and age cannot have heard of the term ransomware before.

The kind of war game Haggman has come up with appears to be another kind of RPG role-playing game people are used to from the fantasy and sci-fi genre. In this case, two sets of players control the UK and Russia respectively and are tasked to deal with the five dimensions of government, business, people/population, the military and intelligence services and critical infrastructure, "each of which are tasked with attacking, defending, or ensuring prosperity".  It is not a literal learning exercise in the sense of military manoeuvres but in the sense that it introduces its participants "to basic and indispensable concepts in cyber security". With this in mind it is not surprising that groups that consisted only of civil servants scored worst in defending the country (7.5), while mixed groups of higher ranking officials drawn from a range of backgrounds scored best at 22.25, obviously complementing each other's knowledge.

What also I found interesting is just how much this sounds like a traditional table-top RPG the likes of 'World of Warcraft' or 'The Dark Eye', a sure favorite in the late 80s and 90s, with elements of strategy gaming. It was a curious mix of throwing the dice and computer-aided action and graphics, before most of these games went PC only. It also includes strategy elements as players must manage limited resources, a must to provide any sense of realism, and I would imagine also elements like effects of enemy propaganda and how contended or discontent one's population is as the struggle goes on and scarcity of public resources increases with every hit. The element of Clausewitz's 'Fog and Friction' concept is introduced to make gaming scenarios more realistic and provide random unforeseen events, including random geopolitical events "and a black market for offensive and defensive assets". Alpha Centauri, here we come.

The article is now available online under the title "Why policymakers are playing board games to counter cyber threats". See
https://www.newstatesman.com/spotlight/cyber/2018/05/why-policymakers-are-playing-board-games-counter-cyber-threats.

Haggman, Andreas. (2018). Why so serious? Introducing a fun take on cyber war. NewStatesman, Spotlight Supplement, CyberSecurity: Dangerous Games. Vol. 18 (Issue 4-10 May 2018), 16-18.

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