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September 17 Tuesday

Adapting to Cybersecurity Threats: The Demand for Combined Capabilities, Jesse Sowell, Assistant Professor, Texas A&M

  • Tuesday, September 17, 2019 at 12:05PM - 1:30PM
  • SLB Room 122
  • Open To The Public
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Remediating sophisticated, transnational cybersecurity incidents requires a combination of technical, operational, organizational, and legal capabilities distributed amongst an equally diverse set of state and non-state (private) actors.  Existing, successful instances of such remediation efforts---referred to as combined capabilities---are based on a seemingly uncommon alignment of norms, goals, and values between state and non-state actors.  Historically this alignment has been animated and sustained by informal interpersonal trust, resulting in successful high impact campaigns such as Operation Ghost Click and Avalanche.  That said, public success stories are scarce, and interviews indicate this informal regime complex is ad hoc and fragile.  This presentation describes how Sowell’s Combined Capabilities Project characterizes these understudied processes and works to identify potential solutions.  Instances of combined capabilities are presented in terms of the institutional supply and demand of substantive capabilities (technical, operational, and legal) alongside the organizational capabilities necessary to coordinate, adapt, and, ultimately more systematically sustain these efforts.  For instance, while a few long-standing actors in these collaborations have developed strategies for transforming informal private intelligence into evidence that can be used in courts, transferring these lessons is difficult given groups often dissolve shortly after the immediate threat is mitigated.  In this presentation, Sowell will first describe the project, offering a model of combined capabilities based on both public cases and stylized cases discussed in interviews.  In the second half, Sowell will discuss the opportunities and challenges faced by these groups as they navigate an arguably necessary transition from ad hoc adaptation to what Sowell (and others) have referred to as a model of systematic planned adaptation to cybersecurity threats that balances the adaptive characteristics of informal engagement with legal changes that both reduce barriers to collaboration and introduce necessary accountability mechanisms.

Dr. Jesse Sowell is an Assistant Professor in the Department of International Affairs at Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government and Public Service. His research focuses on the non-state institutions that ensure Internet security and stability. Analytically, Sowell’s work combines internet operations, industrial political economy, and operations strategy to understand the supply and demand of institutional and organizational capabilities and capacities that make these institutions effective. Sowell’s ongoing Combined Capabilities Project explores how these transnational institutions engage with conventional state actors, in particular law enforcement and intelligence communities. This work incorporates notions of planned adaptation and consensus-based decision making in complex engineering systems. Sowell’s other projects include research on Internet eXchanges (IXes) as platforms supporting infrastructure services markets and the adaptive governance of IoT security standards and frameworks.  Dr. Sowell holds a PhD in Technology, Management, and Policy from MIT; previous to the Bush School, Dr. Sowell was a Postdoctoral Cybersecurity Fellow at Stanford CISAC from 2016-2018.


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