The cyberspace defense complex

Just as the world’s foreign ministries have taken a keener interest in IT security since the emergence of seemingly state-backed cyber-attacks, so too has the arms trade. If cyberspace is comparable to land, sea and air, then the companies whose equipment has traditionally been used to defend those spaces do not want to miss out.

At the London Conference on Cyberspace, in front of many of the world’s governments, the UK’s defence industry was firmly on display. ADS, the trade body for the UK’s aerospace, defence, security and space industries, co-sponsored a drinks reception with Intellect and put on a showcase for member companies including BAE Systems Detica, QinetiQ and the UK divisions of Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman and Raytheon.

According to ADS director Kevin Jones, the group’s involvement in the conference was another last minute addition. “We were asked to see if we could get our members involved in the event at quite a late stage, because at the time it was perceived as being too government-focussed.”

Even so, their presence was a visual reminder that among the many interests lobbying the UK government in the hope of influencing its cyberspace strategy are defence contractors who are trying to navigate an industry in flux.

“People aren’t buying new weapon systems, planes or aircraft carriers any more – those sources of revenue are drying up,” explains LSE professor Peter Sommer. “Meanwhile, there’s a lot of interest in cyberspace, and these companies are spending a lot of money to promote themselves in this area.”

This may have had an effect on government policy, Sommer says. “These companies will all employ ex-civil servants who know how to influence government,” he explains. “There is also the rhetoric about generating work and wealth by supporting the arms trade, which always appeals to the UK government.”

This is not to say there is some grand conspiracy to make Internet security into a military issue, he says. “These are salespeople, and they want to put their products in a good light, but its ultimately up to government whether or not they want to buy them.”

The problem, he says, is that the implications of cyber security policy for civil society will be subtle, and the people who understand them best are rarely as well funded as the defence industry. “The arms companies have lots of money to spend in the hope of big rewards, but the people who might want to mount a counter argument have to scrabble along on air.”

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

Related Topics