My friends and colleagues Jerry Brito and Tate Watkins have a new working paper out,
examining the correlation between positive economic trends and rising dress hemlines er, sorry, summertime on the brain. It’s on threat inflation in cyber security.
Threat inflation, according to Thrall and Cramer, is a concept in political science that refers to “the attempt by elites to create concern for a threat that goes beyond the scope and urgency that a disinterested analysis would justify.” Different actors—including members of Congress, defense contractors, journalists, policy experts, academics, and civilian, military, and intelligence officials—will each have their own motives for contributing to threat inflation. When a threat is inflated, the marketplace of ideas on which a democracy relies to make sound judgments—in particular, the media and popular debate—can become overwhelmed by fallacious information. The result can be unwarranted public support for misguided policies.
The run-up to the Iraq War illustrates the dynamic of threat inflation. After 9/11, the Bush Administration decided to invade Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein. Lacking any clear casus belli, the administration sought popular and congressional support for war by promoting several rationales that ultimately proved baseless.
Over the past two years, there has been a drive for increased federal involvement in cybersecurity. This drive is evidenced by the introduction of several comprehensive cybersecurity bills in Congress, the initiation of several regulatory proceedings related to cybersecurity by the Federal Communications Commission and Commerce Department, and increased coverage of the issue in the media. The official consensus seems to be that the United States is facing a grave and immediate threat that only quick federal intervention can address. This narrative has gone largely unchallenged by members of Congress or the press, and it has inflated the threat.
There is very little verifiable evidence to substantiate the threats claimed, and the most vocal proponents of a threat engage in rhetoric that can only be characterized as alarmist. Cyber threat inflation parallels what we saw in the run-up to the Iraq War.
The open diverse and creative culture fostered by an increasingly connected world isn’t in grave danger, except from those who would protect us.