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Developing a Conceptual Framework for National Cyber Deterrence and Response

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Technical Report

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Gravely Research Group, Naval War College Newport United States

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While much has been written on the difficulties of deterring malicious behavior in cyberspace, there has been a shortage of recommended solutions on bringing together all instruments of national power to counter this malicious behavior. The authors contend that rather than being constrained by unrealistic expectations of near-perfect attribution, the US government should explore a wider spectrum of response options to include more emphasis on soft power when sanctions may not be appropriate. The proposed National Cyber Engagement Framework provides a model of graduated deterrence ranging from deterrence by agreement, through deterrence by sanction, to deterrence by denial of objective and compellence measures which can be tailored to the severity of the threat and nature of the actor. Although the higher end of possible response options such as trade embargoes or kinetic attack may be perceived as too escalatory, the authors argue that if the US government continues to under-respond to cyber threats, it will fail to take the initiative in establishing and reinforcing norms of responsible behavior in cyberspace. This balance of graduated deterrence and tailored compellence response options holds the best long-term prospect of reducing malicious behavior in cyberspace. While technical advances in the area of active defense will also help in these efforts, it is expected that such improvements will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary in nature, leaving cyberspace as offense-dominant for the near-term.

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  • Government and Political Science

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