Student Blog – Julien Teel | Viral Warfare: The Security Implications of Cyber and Biological Weapons

On Thursday, the Tower Center had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Gregory Koblentz, a leading expert and scholar on bioterrorism. Dr. Koblentz used this opportunity to speak about the growing security implications of cyber and biological weapons. In the wake of sophisticated and massive cyber-attacks, experts and military officials have attempted to compare cyber weapons to other conventional means to fight wars, such as air power, nuclear deterrence, and other modern doctrines. However, Dr. Koblentz made a unique and warranted observation: cyber and biological weapons share many strategic characteristics, thus we have the opportunity to address them in a similar manner.

Dr. Koblentz referred to four specific characteristics which define cyber and biological weapons. First, there is an evident multi-use nature of the associated technology. Second, the aggressor has the advantage over the defender during an attack. Third, there is a challenge of attribution following an attack. And fourth, governments and militaries use covert programs to create such weapons. The implications of such characteristics ensure that cyber and biological weapons are inextricably easy and cheap to produce, effective in safeguarding anonymity, and are alluring for weaker states to develop.

His solution proposed during the presentation, however, presented the opportunity that cyber capabilities may be used to advance information technology rather than risk physical confrontations. Dr. Koblentz stated that any solution to address cyber-attacks cannot be technical in nature. Rather, just as the international community addressed biological weapons, we must once again take an ethical and moral stance against the use of cyber weapons. If the global community was able to produce the Biological Weapons Convention to combat the use of biological weapons, then there is an opportunity to produce a comparable agreement in regards to cyber weapons.

Considering the similar characteristics between cyber and biological weapons, it is entirely possible that an international agreement or convention develop in the future. It was stated that the world, beginning with the United States, must create the norm that it is morally and ethically wrong to use cyber weapon capabilities to attack civilians, energy and transportation infrastructure, and financial systems. Without such a change in behavior norms, there can only be escalation and the possibility for physical confrontation.

– Julien Teel, 2013 Tower Center Vaughn Intern

Teel, JulienJulien Teel recently graduated from SMU in December 2013 with a degree in Political Science and International Studies. His research encompasses security and defense issues in East Asia, as well as analyzing the trilateral relationship between the U.S., Japan, and China. Currently, Julien is in the process of applying for Officer Candidate School in the Navy with the intention of entering as an Intelligence Officer. He eventually hopes to become a Foreign Area Officer in the Navy, formulating and promoting American foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region.