Ironically, it’s a different kind of cybersecurity that Russia and China may be more worried about. Why is it that those countries, along with such beacons of liberal democracy as Uzbekistan, have suggested that the United Nations establish an “international code of conduct” for cybersecurity? Cyberespionage was elegantly ignored in the suggested wording for the convention, as virtual break-ins at the Pentagon and Google remain a favorite official and corporate pastime of both countries. But what Western democracies see as constitutionally protected free speech in cyberspace, Moscow and Beijing regard as a new threat to their ability to control their citizens. Cybersecurity has a broader meaning in non-democracies: For them, the worst-case scenario is not collapsing power plants, but collapsing political power.
The social media-fueled Arab Spring has provided dictators with a case study in the need to patrol cyberspace not only for subversive code, but also for subversive ideas. The fall of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi surely sent shivers down the spines of officials in Russia and China. No wonder the two countries asked for a code of conduct that helps combat activities that use communications technologies — “including networks” (read: social networks) — to undermine “political, economic and social stability.”
So Russia and China are ahead of the United States, but mostly in defining cybersecurity as the fight against subversive behavior. This is the true cyberwar they are fighting.