The construction of cyberspace threats, by Luísa Lobato & Kai Kenkel

The diffusion of information and communication technologies worldwide is as much a source of opportunities as it is a source of concern for governments and security professionals. In the article  Discourses of cyberspace securitization in Brazil and in the United States published in Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional (Vol. 58 – No. 2 – 2015), researchers at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro have analyzed the discursive construction of cyberspace-related threats in Brazil and in the United States. The study offers a critical view on the process of militarization of cyberspace that has prevailed in these discourses, a process based on the fear of the capacity of State and non-State actors to affect the usability of the Internet.

“The movement that shifts securitization to militarization raises concerns not only because the US are the global superpower, but also because the securitization of cyberspace originates in said country, shaping a perception of the threats and possible countermeasures that are emulated in other countries. Even in Brazil, where there is only an incipient securitization process under way, the quest for military strategy, deterrence and operational guidelines stresses the trend to draw parallels between conventional military operations and the virtual world” argue the authors. The study employs a securitization school framework to analyze the language used in documents published by distinct spheres of Brazilian and American governments, offering a contribution to the development of an additional securitization sector and aiming at capturing the specificity of the ‘virtual’ domain.

There are three distinct levels in the threat-framing processes. The first one is the politicization of the issue, or its introduction into the political agenda and debates. The second level is a securitization process, whereby an issue is portrayed as an existential threat to an object’s security. Lastly, a third level of the threat-framing process is the process of militarization. In this situation, military framing of the threat takes place, with the use of military terminology and strategy as countermeasure. The militarization of cyberspace is based on the fear that the capacity of states and non-state actors might seriously affect the usability of the cyberspace.

The idea of ‘cyber security’ had a major development in the U.S since the 1990s, with the politicization of cyber-threats by American policy-makers. From them, the government issued a series of national strategies in the years of 1999, 2003 and 2011, directly addressing the risks and threats arising from and through cyberspace. In Brazil, concerns over the rising numbers of cyber-attacks against governmental websites and the recent leaks that revealed U.S surveillance over the country’s public figures and infrastructure have stimulated the adoption of a cyber-threat discourse. The country’s Política Cibernética de Defesa, part of the National Defense Strategy of 2008, is a document that addresses the way in which governmental and military authorities understand cyber-threats.

The networked environment that constitutes cyberspace has been the focus of attention of governments worldwide. This attention to the security of digital networks and devices follows the diffusion in the use of such technologies by private corporations, governments and individuals alike. The growth in numbers of cyber-attacks against the networks and systems used by these actors have called attention to the risks of being online. The particular architecture of cyberspace facilitates anonymity, which hinders the tracking of many of the sources of such attacks, constituting an additional factor of insecurity feeding catastrophic predictions related to internet vulnerability. Where trade and service infrastructure increasingly depend upon virtual systems, distinct cases have seen the illegal use of cyberspace as a threat to national security.   

It is important to question the necessity and the limits of processes of securitization and militarization, once such discourses still employ traditional logics of security that are not quite adequate for the reality of digital networks. The state’s role in this domain is rather limited, even if a certain aspect of virtual reality is considered a first-line threat to national security, because cybersecurity is a sphere shared by the private and the public sectors, and exploited by individuals. State actions to control cyberspace risk several freedoms and rights of all other actors.

Read the article:

LOBATO, LUÍSA CRUZ, & KENKEL, KAI MICHAEL. (2015). Discourses of cyberspace securitization in Brazil and in the United States. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 58(2), 23-43.

LUÍSA CRUZ LOBATO – Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro, Instituto de Relações Internacionais, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, Brasil (

KAI MICHAEL KENKEL – Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro, Instituto de Relações Internacionais, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, Brasil (


Como citar este artigo:

Mundorama. "The construction of cyberspace threats, by Luísa Lobato & Kai Kenkel". Mundorama - Revista de Divulgação Científica em Relações Internacionais, [acessado em 15/01/2016]. Disponível em: <>.

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