Hertog Program Hosts Discussion on Cyber Warfare

Award-Winning National Security Reporter Shane Harris Joins Hertog Fellow Gordon Goldstein and Professor Matthew Waxman in a Far-Reaching Conversation about U.S. Cyber Warfare and Security Efforts

New York, April 15, 2015—The cyberattack against Sony Pictures set off a series of events that may help shape future U.S. responses to hackers, Daily Beast journalist Shane Harris told Columbia Law School students and guests at an April 9 event sponsored by the Roger Hertog Program on Law and National Security and the Initiative on Internet Governance and Cyber-Security at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

The Sony attack—which the Obama administration quickly attributed to North Korea—was so widely covered by the media that the U.S. government felt pressure to respond, said Harris, author of the new book @War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex. He spoke in conversation with Columbia Law School Hertog Fellow Gordon M. Goldstein, a managing director with responsibility for global external affairs and government relations at Silver Lake, a global private technology investment firm.
“Within the White House, the question wasn’t so much how do we attribute this to North Korea but what is the response going to be,” Harris said. “You have to do something, and whatever you do is going to be policy. You’re creating policy on the fly.”
President Obama publicly blamed North Korea for the attack. He was soon backed up by FBI Director James B. Comey, a former Hertog Fellow in National Security Law, who also named North Korea as the culprit in a speech. Harris said such top-level calling out is “extraordinary” and likely “unprecedented.”
Obama said there would be a proportional response to the Sony attack. A few days later, North Korea’s Internet went offline, and the Obama administration eventually announced additional sanctions against the country.
The episode and its aftermath are part of a larger cyber war among countries and private actors. Earlier this month, Obama announced in an executive order that hackers posing a threat to U.S. national security would be subject to financial sanctions.
Harris traced the origins of U.S. cyber efforts to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which launched partnerships between the government and technology companies that continue to grow.
“That was an important moment in the military-Internet complex,” Harris said. “The government has to have the cooperation of private companies. That model is at the heart of cyber security.”
During a Q&A session with students, Harris said the Obama administration is “flexing its muscle” in cyberspace to deter would-be hackers. He said he was hopeful that countries—including China—would reach some sort of stabilized cyber status.
“I think we’ll come to an understanding because countries realize how much damage we can do to each other,” he said.
Harris and Goldstein were introduced at the event by Columbia Law School Professor Matthew C. Waxman, faculty co-director of the Hertog Program on Law and National Security and a former senior official at the U.S. Department of State, Department of Defense, and National Security Council. Waxman also co-chairs Columbia University’s Center for Cybersecurity, which is housed at the Data Science Institute.
“Columbia has emerged as a leader in thinking about the intersections of security, technology, and law,” Waxman said after the event.
The Hertog Program on Law and National Security features a rigorous and innovative curriculum that integrates the study of law, foreign policy, and strategy. It draws on the unique government experience of permanent and adjunct faculty, and supports research by faculty members and students to produce policy-relevant scholarship on cutting-edge issues as a lasting contribution to the field.