In the classic Warner Bros. Road Runner cartoons, the stubborn but often quite technically sophisticated Wile E. Coyote (Carnivorous Vulgaris) not only persistently failed to capture his avian prey (Accelleratii Incredibus) but more often than not ended up crushed, mangled, or otherwise seriously injured as his own technologies boomeranged against him during his ultimately hopeless pursuits of the Road Runner.
The forlorn look on Wile's face as he hovered momentarily beyond the edge of a cliff, just before his long and painful plunge to the canyon floor far below, might be worth keeping in mind when we consider the real world's headlong rush into the theory, industries, and practice of "cyberwar" and its associated tradecrafts.
To be sure, we can certainly stipulate that genuine computer-related risks to businesses, infrastructure, and other aspects of our increasingly interconnected societies do actually exist.
Yet it is also clear that the business of "cyber-scaremongering" has become enormous indeed, with billions of dollars, euros, and other currencies riding on convincing politicians that computer hacking is somehow equivalent in scale to global thermonuclear war.
In fact, the degree of purposeful exaggeration being invoked toward this cause, along with rigged demos specifically designed to confuse lay (that is, essentially non-technical) observers, are awe-inspiring in their sheer audacity.
This should not be unexpected though. Cyberwar (and its close relative "cyberterrorism") have become major profit centers for private industry, a means to expand Pentagon and other government spending during a time of calls for reduced conventional weapons outlays, and also the currency of ongoing struggles for power between various agencies.
As part and parcel of this new regime, we're now seeing explicit recruiting calls not only for large number of defensive cyberwar operatives, but especially now for offensive cyber-attack experts and trainees, presumably toward creating the next Stuxnet, Flame, or other cyberattack vectors aimed at adversaries' (presumably ever more hardened) facilities and systems.
But defending computer-based operations -- while no walk in the park to be sure -- does not functionally require the same magnitude of resources as building aircraft carriers, training vast military forces, and churning out millions of tons of munitions.
Over time, it is likely to become ever more difficult to penetrate these cyber-systems, with the "easy pickings" increasingly relegated to the history books.
But the consequences of our vast cyberwar mobilizations could still be enormous, and perhaps not in the ways that our leaders had intended.
It seems unlikely in the extreme that any government would endorse the distribution of "do-it-yourself atomic bomb kits." (Step 317: Always wash your hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water after handling fissile material.)
So it is perhaps with a sense of somewhat sardonic bemusement that we can view the rise of skilled government-supported cyberattack warriors, whose talents we should not expect to be forever directed at their governments' designated targets.
These skills are particularly potent since they by and large do not need a great deal of infrastructural support to deploy, and may be easily transferred between persons and groups, or between operational specialties -- for example, the transition from cyberattacks to evasive communications.
The vast, fundamental flexibility of the Internet, with the opportunities for even unaffiliated individuals to assert significant asymmetric power through various means of obfuscation, cannot be overestimated.
This is especially important given the dramatic increases in government attempts to throttle, limit, and otherwise control Internet communications.
In the U.S., legislation such as SOPA and PIPA would have censored Web sites for the benefit of private industry. Takedowns of domain names without true due process, via government manipulation of the antiquated Domain Name System (DNS) have become all too common. Around the world, Internet speech is more and more controlled, videos are blocked, and search engines are subjected to censorship demands for essentially political reasons.
In Europe, the ham-fisted "right to be forgotten" threatens huge potential damage to freedom of information from search engines and other sources, with stupendous abuse potential.
And as if all that and more weren't enough, we now see the encroaching specter of the United Nation's ITU -- clearly feeling empowered by national governments' increasing anger at ICANN's continuing "off the rails" shenanigans -- threatening to bring a whole new dimension of nightmares to the Internet, with a likely effect of ensconcing via international treaties many of the worst of these governments' abuses against the Net.
It is perhaps poetic justice of a sort -- in the vein of "reap what you sow"-- that efforts to constrain the Internet by governments may ultimately be undermined by the very same cyberwar principles, talents, and technologies that those same governments have nurtured for an entirely different set of goals.
For as governments attempt to crack down on their own populations' free speech and information access on the Net, they are likely to discover that the Internet's flexibility -- and cyberwar skills -- may easily combine toward protecting the Net for its user community and associated speech and communications rights, rather than solely serving the will of national or other government edicts.
This then is the cyberwar in the mirror, the Pandora's box releasing energies that may actually serve not only evil, but good as well, in ways that may be wholly unexpected by the governments that chose to create and invoke their powers.
Of course, our leaders around the world may choose to minimize or ignore these scenarios, and simply plow ahead toward their planned cyberwar nirvanas.
But in doing so, they may still risk much the same fate as a certain hungry animated coyote, who learned the hard way that once you step off the cliff, you can wave your arms, try to tread air, and hold up printed signs of desperation, but the only exit is still straight down.