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Changing Technology Leads Evolving Cybersecurity Strategy

Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO
Dr. Jacob Shively, assistant professor of government at the University of West Florida.

As technology evolves, so do cybersecurity threats.

Dr. Jacob Shively, assistant professor of government at the University of West Florida, recently received a GROW Institute grant from the UWF Office of Research and Sponsored Programs to begin to look at the implications of technology and security policy.

“My larger area of interest is national security and foreign policy, so naturally cyber-issues have become more and more prominent,” Shively said. “I started doing a lot of reading and wrote a paper on the topic and have recently written a research grant proposal.”

Shively said the focus of cybersecurity policy has shifted in the last 15 years.

“Beginning in the George W. Bush administration, a lot of the focus was on protecting critical national infrastructure. Post-9/11, that was a concern,” Shively said. “Over time, that has evolved and gotten to the point where in the Obama administration, they were talking about doing that, but also you have U.S. Cyber Command by the military. You have the Obama administration talking about the cyber environment as a kind of open civic space that should be open to everybody, so there are larger political implications there.”

Part of Shively’s research is to determine if there is a disconnect between those making the national policy decisions and those working on the ground in the cybersecurity field.

“People on the ground in the trenches are more focused on keeping people out of our systems or identifying threats and dealing with those,” he said. “There are also a lot of people on the ground using that environment for counter-intelligence activities.”

Whether cybersecurity will redefine our approach to security strategy or become integrated in how the U.S currently approaches security is of particular interest. Shively said the recent incursions by Russian hackers during the 2016 election illustrate this point.

“What the Russians were attempting to do was a classic espionage attack or political disruption, but the cyber environment enables them to have a disproportionate amount of effect,” he said. “You see this dynamic with terrorism as well. Terrorists are able to use the cyber environment to recruit more effectively and broadly.”

This evolving technology makes it difficult to control the ‘cyber’ environment, but also calls into question how that environment might be perceived.

“When I say cyber, everyone probably has a different idea in their mind about what that is and what the threat is,” Shively said.

While groups like Anonymous have made headlines with attacks in recent years, Shively said that on a national level, other countries are still the real threats.

“It’s really nation states that are the real threat to other nation states because they are the ones with the capability to do something profound,” he said. “Since governments are the ones who tend to dominate these capabilities, in turn they tend to be more conservative with their use of those threats.”

How the U.S. decides to address potential attacks is what Shively is interested in discovering.

“This is the question on cyber, How do we divide strategy from tactics?” he said. “And then, Where do we invest our training and resources and so forth?”

This article is part of a collaboration between WUWF and the UWF Center for Research and Economic Opportunity.