Ride the Lightning

Cybersecurity and Future of Law Practice Blog
by Sharon D. Nelson Esq., President of Sensei Enterprises, Inc.

U.S. is #1 Country in Cyber Power

September 28, 2022

The Washington Post reported (gift article) on September 27 that the second edition of the National Cyber Power Index (part of the Cyber Project within the Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center), indicates the U.S. is the #1 cyber power in the world, followed by China.

Russia has moved into the top three and several nations have moved up on the list, including Iran, Ukraine, Vietnam and South Korea.

The list ranks 30 nations across a range of factors, including offense and defense. It measures capabilities in eight objectives, like foreign intelligence collection or ability to destroy rivals’ infrastructure. Those that rank highly on the list demonstrate both capabilities with cyber power and the willingness to use it.

“Trying to apply outside data and indicators to parse this out, I think is an important endeavor,” Lauren Zabierek, executive director of the Cyber Project, said. “Because how else do you even start the conversation and try to develop that understanding?”

One goal of the list is to look past the nations that most commonly emerge in conversations about cyber: the United States, China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. North Korea doesn’t even appear on the index’s top 10, which is populated by a fair number of surprises, like France or the Netherlands.

The top 10 is, in order, the United States, China, Russia, United Kingdom, Australia, Netherlands, South Korea, Vietnam, France and Iran.

The biggest climbers include Iran (to 10th from 22nd), Ukraine (to 12th from 29th), South Korea (to 7th from 16th) and Vietnam (to 8th from 20th).

Ukraine has demonstrated its defensive capabilities since the Russian war, for instance, and Iran has gotten more aggressive about using cyber for financial purposes.

The United States ranks highly in almost every category, especially its destructive capabilities and in using cyber to gather intelligence.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) assembled its own cyber power rankings last year, using a different method and system, but still concluding that in cyberspace, the United States is in a tier of its own.

“The rankings themselves raise questions as to their value regardless of the methodology used, as trying to assess cyber power quantitatively and qualitatively is purely a subjective exercise,” Emilio Iasiello, a cyber pro and former Defense Intelligence Agency intel officer, wrote last year about the IISS list. “Quantifying amorphous issue-areas like cyber dependence and empowerment, global influence in governance (no headway has been made by anyone), the existence of a strategy and more importantly, military doctrine (often not publicly available), is more art than science.”

The authors of today’s report — Julia Voo, Irfan Hemani and Daniel Cassidy — acknowledge some limitations of the exercise.

“Due to the sensitivities of some aspects of cyber power, particularly destructive, defensive and espionage capabilities and their reliance on domestic national security structures, states may deliberately be shielding their intent and capabilities from public knowledge for strategic purposes,” they write.

But “just because something is hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try,” Zabierek said.

I certainly agree with that – and it seems unarguable that the U.S. has upped its cyber power game. The list makes sense in terms of current world events. Is it imperfect? Yes. Is it nonetheless useful? Very much so.

Sharon D. Nelson, Esq., PresidentSensei Enterprises, Inc.
3975 University Drive, Suite 225Fairfax, VA 22030
Email:   Phone: 703-359-0700
Digital Forensics/Cybersecurity/Information Technology