Research note

The Global Cyber Game

There are many possible analogies for what is happening internationally in the cyber domain, but an illuminating one is that a new kind of global game is being played out. The idea of a game covers a span of meanings from open-ended play to competitive sport, in which skill, strength or luck may determine the outcome. It also invokes the idea of game theory, in which the interactions of groups of people are studied and the results of different kinds of play may be worked out in advance. Games also range from open ended puzzles, such as the tangram, to contests with a clear winner. A game can be finite and time-bound, or infinite and universal, with echoes of Herman Hesse’s Glass Bead Game. The beauty of the game analogy is that it captures the highly multidimensional and still puzzling nature of the cyber domain, as well as its clear evolution into an arena for business competition and geopolitical power plays.

The Global Cyber Game is a worldwide effort to achieve information- enabled advantage. It is a contest to gain a competitive edge through the most effective application and orchestration of knowledge and information capability. The Cyber Game spans the infrastructural, computational and cognitive aspects of information. The game has come to prominence, indeed been made unavoidable, by the advent of digital technologies and cyberspace, although it is as much about a mode of organization as it is about technology.

The game can be considered as a 'competition' because although it may involve physically violent conflict, it does not need to do so, and quite probably will usually not do so, given the global trend away from violent conflict. Nevertheless, the Cyber Game spans several distinct modes of ‘competition’, running from new forms of interstate war, through new types of criminal activity, to new forms of civil society struggle, and even new forms of constructive civil society interaction.

The game analogy is helpful for framing cyberpower and cyber strategy because it allows the possibility of striking a constructive balance between competition and cooperation, and because it clarifies the various components involved in a game, highlighting the key features of what is otherwise a very complex strategic puzzle.
The first component of a game is a playing field or, in this case, a ‘Cyber Gameboard’ which is global, and formed from the intersection of power and digital information processing and exchange. Second, there are players, who range widely: from nations, to ordinary citizens and consumers, to businesses, to politically- and ideologically motivated non-state actors, to serious organized crime networks. All have relatively unconstrained access to the Cyber Gameboard, though with varying degrees of technical sophistication. Third, there are the rules of the game, which are just beginning to emerge, though until now it has been something of a free-for-all. Fourth, there is the nature of play and the objective of the game, which is where the emerging outlines of cyber strategy can be discerned.

The Cyber Gameboard provides a framework for thinking about the global information space formed by the entire nexus of computers and telecommunications networks, including their hard and soft infrastructures and their associated flows of information, and human cognitive interaction with the information. Play on the Cyber Gameboard implies the use of cyberpower—power exerted through or against information. This is feasible thanks to the new information infrastructure which, perhaps unintentionally, has the side-effect of allowing continuous threats to and from information.

Information is not merely susceptible to power; power and information form a reciprocal relationship on the gameboard. Power is able to act against or through information, but at the same time information helps to build power, producing subtle interdependencies. If the Cyber Gameboard is envisaged as an arena for the exercise of cyberpower, it logically has a ‘cyber’ or information related dimension and a power dimension. Together, these two dimensions form a conceptual framework, the nine-cell Cyber Gameboard, that allows various types of cyber gameplay to be analysed. Interpreting the resulting implications for cyber strategy, meaning strategy for the exercise of cyberpower, is one of the main aims of The Global Cyber Game report. 

Relevant report  

The following report was written by Synthesys' CEO, Hardin Tibbs, and provides a strategic overview of the cyber domain.

Click to view PDF

Click to view PDF

The Global Cyber Game

This report was published by the Defence Academy of the UK in 2013. It offers a systematic way of thinking about cyberpower and its use by a range of global players. It emphasizes the value of the civilian Internet, and its critical contribution to economic growth and social development, as key things that Internet militarization should aim to protect. The report is also available for download from the UK Defence Academy website.