Cyberspace derives from the Greek kybernetes (governor or steerer of the boat) and has come to describe an environment encompassing all of the means by which humans create and exchange information via electronics and the electromagnetic spectrum. Norbert Wiener coined the term Cybernetics for the cognitive science of control and communications in the animal and the machine.
Some call Cyberspace the fifth domain. But, unlike earth, sea, air and space, this term derives from Latin for lord or master and thus is inapt in describing a global, ungoverned, uncontrollable and fiercely contested commons. Cyberspace is better understood by examining its three components:
• The physical component describes means. It encompasses the hardware, software and connecting media (ether*) employed to acquire, store, manipulate, exploit and exchange data, swiftly, reliably and securely. The metrics for evaluating performance in this component are described as information assurance*.
• The information component concerns purpose. Evaluation of performance in this component requires an appreciation of languages, history and cultures of both the originator and recipient of messages. The metric is a subjective determination of the extent to which the purpose of a message has been achieved.
• The cognitive component deals with results. Since the message targets the human brain and its decision-making process (wetware) the metric is the effect the message has on behavior, or the value of an exchange.
Why should you care about cyberspace? Cyberspace connects you to anyone you desire, but also connects everyone to you, desired or not. Your personal, financial and national security depends on the ability of the cyberspace components to satisfy demanding expectations, especially when under natural or purposeful stresses. The physical component of cyberspace converts reality into digits by means and processes that permit data to be distorted in ways that can be unpredictable, unexpected, anonymous and undetectable. There are no agreed rules of conduct or meaningful sanctions for miscreants. Consequently, you can’t always trust what you see, or read or even hear.
Cyberspace may not always satisfy your expectations for reliability and security today and probably will not do so in the future, so voyagers need to understand the risks. Disruptive probes of the physical component are increasing and there are as yet no economic incentives or agreed global standards for improvements.
Given this, how should you react? By being attentive to these uncertainties; by making risk/cost/benefit decisions that can reduce your vulnerability; and by being prepared to manage the consequences when the system fails—as it will.
*Ether: A substance formerly believed to occupy space beyond the sphere of the moon and to compose the stars and planets. A medium whose vibrations constituted light and radio waves. (The New Shorter Oxford Dictionary)
*Information assurance: Measures that protect and defend information and information systems by ensuring their availability, integrity, authentication, confidentiality, and non-repudiation. These measures include providing for restoration of information systems by incorporating protection, detection, and reaction capabilities.
*Information operations (IO). The information component of any action or activity to alter human perceptions and behavior.