Analogies and Metaphors in Cyberspace


Join us, as we take a closer look at our resilience book of the month 'Cyber War Will Not Happen', written by Thomas Rid


Thomas Rid, author of this month’s EPC Book-of-the-Month (Cyber War Will Not Take Place) has a passion for what words really mean – not just what we like to use them for. This week’s extract from his book involves his thinking about the way we use analogies – like cyberspace.

“…analogies often begin to fail without their users noticing the defect.  The short-sighted and flawed use of metaphors is especially prevalent in the cyber security debate…Talking about cyber war or cyber weapons , for instance , is didactically useful: the audience instantly has an idea of what cyber security could be about; … evoking thoughts of “flying” or “maneuvering” in cyberspace.  (in fact)… cyberspace is not even space. Cyberspace is a now-common metaphor to describe the widening reaches of the Internet”

Rid also points out that cyberspace and its related term, the “fifth domain of warfare” were coined by military leaders who were competing for a defence budget; it was, he says, a “lobbying gimmck”.  He adds…

“In fact the very idea of “flying, fighting and winning…in cyberspace” enshrined in the US Air Force’s mission statement, is so ill-fitting that some serious observers can only find it faintly ridiculous – an organisation that wields some of the world’s most terrifying and precise weapons should know better”

This is hard-hitting stuff, so it would reward a proper look at his whole argument before commenting on his assertion too freely.  But it gives you a flavour of the whole book; Rid is a merciless critic whenever he detects semantic carelessness and confused terminology.  It doesn’t help the “cause” of cyber security that the field is so littered with both.

Read our book review of 'Cyber War Will Not Take Place' here.

Cyber War Will Not Take Place - Thomas Rid