Summary of The Hacker and the State

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The Hacker and the State book summary

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In 2016, a secretive group known as the “Shadow Brokers” released a cache of hacked documents that included details about the US National Security Agency’s most powerful hacking tools. That breach is emblematic of the ever-increasing ferocity of international competition in the digital realm. In this timely book, cybersecurity expert Ben Buchanan explains how hacking and cyberattacks became the norm in the interplay between countries. They are a new form of “statecraft,” he argues, used to shape the world’s political landscape and help countries to gain an advantage over one another.

About the Author

Ben Buchanan is a faculty member at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, where he conducts research on the intersection of cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and statecraft. He is the author of The Cybersecurity Dilemma


Cyber capabilities are better for “shaping” context than for “signaling” a point of view.

Global competition over digital resources is becoming more intense and strident. Chinese hackers infiltrate corporations. Russian hackers meddle in foreign elections. Even marginal countries can compromise and manipulate foreign powers. At one point, thinkers imagined cyberattacks and cyber war as catastrophic, even apocalyptic events, like nuclear war. In fact, cyber war has turned out to be just another aspect of international positioning and intelligence. It is a new form of statecraft.

Statecraft has two critical aspects; the first is “signaling.” Mustering troops is an example of signaling. A government can use signaling to suggest its position, capabilities and power, and may, thereby, influence its adversaries’ decisions and actions. The other aspect of statecraft, “shaping,” involves more direct influencing of the political and diplomatic landscape itself. During the Cold War, when the United States allowed the Soviets to gain access to flawed designs for items such as computer chips, that covert act of sabotage shaped – that is, undermined...

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