Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

THE HACKER AND THE STATE: Cyber Attacks and the New Normal of Geopolitics by Ben Buchanan book review

  • Written by  Angus Parker
  • Published in Books
THE HACKER AND THE STATE: Cyber Attacks and the New Normal of Geopolitics by Ben Buchanan book review
10 Jul
2020
by Ben Buchanan • Harvard University Press • £20.65 (hardback)

‘Today one of the primary ways governments shape geopolitics is by hacking other countries’. This is perhaps a bold statement, but the plethora of examples recounted in this book illustrate how devastating cyber attacks, affecting both the public and private spheres, have begun to animate a contemporary digital battleground between states. Ben Buchanan demonstrates how this field has evolved from espionage operations and a field dominated by the United States to cyber attacks that have broader implications for economies and societies – increasingly becoming ‘the new normal of geopolitics’.

There is nuance to Buchanan’s argument. As he notes, the ‘chaotic arena of cyber operations... is not what scholars and military planners had long imagined’. Unlike the interpretation that envisions cyber attacks as the digital equivalent of nuclear warfare, in being devastating but rare, Buchanan argues that cyber operations have instead become a persistent, common and pervasive tool of statecraft – ‘more subtle than policy makers imagined, yet with impacts that are world changing’.

A key distinction is between ‘signalling’ and ‘shaping’. During the Cold War, the emphasis was on signalling, but cyber attacks, conversely, are versatile tools for shaping geopolitics. Their apparent weakness as a means of geopolitical signalling is more than counterbalanced by their versatility as a tool for geopolitical shaping, as evidenced by examples such as the group known as the Shadow Brokers who leaked NSA files and espionage techniques from 2015 to 2018.

Moreover, cyber operations will continue to become more powerful, scalable and widespread. As Buchanan states, ‘the harm that hackers can do is expanding faster than the deterrence or defences against them’. Although the book perhaps does not concentrate enough on the explicit political implications of each attack, it does provide an excellent primer for understanding how cyber operations have become an indelible part of global relations and ably demonstrates how hacking has ‘earned its place in the playbook of statecraft’.

Get Geographical delivered to your door!
signup buttonGeographical has been in print since 1935, during which time we have reported on many thousands of global issues, allowing readers to look past the boundaries and borders of their world. Our monthly print magazine costs £9.50 for three months, or £38 for a year. We hope you will conisder joining us. 

Julysub 2020

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

DurhamBath Spa600x200 Greenwich Aberystwythherts

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in REVIEWS...

Films

The Ocean Film Festival World Tour 2020 brings the water…

Films

2020 has, for many of us, been a dramatic year.…

Films

One woman’s determined plot to tackle multi-national industry through activism…

Films

Acclaimed documentarian Ron Howard brings an intimate depiction of the…

Books

September’s top non-fiction reads

Books

• by Andri Snær Magnason • Serpent’s Tail

Books

August’s top non-fiction reads

Books

By Dawn Bébe and Juliet Coombe • £25 (hardback)

Books

by David Farrier • Fourth Estate • £11.96 (hardback) 

Books

by Jini Reddy • Bloomsbury • £11.89 (hardback)

Books

by James Boyce • Icon Books • £12.99 (hardback)

Books

 by Peter Wilson • £38.99 (hardback)