Whitepapers and ‘the Cyber’

The United States government spearheaded a change in direction – some would argue in the wrong direction – by issuing Executive Order 13010.1 ‘Cyber threats’ were identified in the realm of critical infrastructure protection and understood to comprise “electronic, radio-frequency, or computer-based attacks on the information or communications components that control critical infrastructures”.2 Subsequently, in a similar vein of the protection of critical infrastructure, Presidential Decision Directive 63 earmarked “cyber-based information systems” besides critical infrastructure.3 The Decision Directive 63 also outfitted other terms with a cyber prefix, being: “cyber attacks”, “cyber supported infrastructures”, “cyber systems”, “cyber-based systems” and “cyber information warfare threat”.4 Despite coining these various neologies, the document does not define these terms.


The next document by the United States government aimed at safeguarding information systems – in this case without a cyber-prefix – is the document “Defending America’s Cyberspace, National Plan for Information Systems Protection”.5 This document spawned 33 new cyber-prefixed notions and placed them in a context of national security.6 The only two cyber-terms defined, however, are cyberattack (“Exploitation of the software vulnerabilities of information technology-based control components”) and cyberspace (“describes the world of connected computers and the society that surrounds them […] commonly known as the INTERNET”).7 The meagre definition section leaves much issues unresolved, but from the tone, context and the two definitions one could argue that cyber in the document has shifted from a broad concept as intended by Arquilla and Ronfeldt to a narrow concept related to computer and network mediated issues.

1 William J. Clinton, “Executive Order 13010: Critical Infrastructure Protection,” Federal Register 61, no. 138 (1996), 37347-37350.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 The White House, Securing America’s Cyberspace, National Plan for Information Systems Protection: An Invitation to a Dialogue (Washington, DC: The White House, 2000).

6 The new notions: “cyber vulnerabilities”, “cyber disruptions”, “cyber defense”, “cyber networks”, “cyber-intrusions”, “cyber-security”, “cyber incidents”, “non-cyber systems”, “cyber technology”, “cyber-ethics”, “Cyber Citizens Program”, “cyber-driven systems”, “cyber criminals”, “cyber events”, “cyber-burglar tool kits”, “cyber intruders”, “cyber warfare”, “cyber status”, “cyber resource guides”, “cyber-reconstitution”, “cyber assurance”, “cyber literacy”, “cyber dimensions”, “cyber sensors and intrusion detection systems”, “cyber situation understanding”, “cyber systems command and control tools”, “cyber defense strategies”, “cyber crisis”, “cyber disruptions” and “cyber nation”.

7 The White House, Securing America’s Cyberspace. p. 146.