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Cyber Weapons and Deterrence

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Technical Report

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Naval Postgraduate School Monterey United States

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With the increasing frequency of cyberattacks, there has been growing discussion on whether these actions can be deterred, and if so, how it can be accomplished. At the same time, there is a lack of international agreement on norms and standards for the use and development of cyber weapons. This thesis examines existing deterrence theory and addresses its applicability in cyberspace. It describes differences between cyber weapons and conventional weapons and outlines the implications these differences can have on the effectiveness of cyber weapons as a deterrent. Expected outcomes of the cyber operation actions taken by the United States and its adversaries, including Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, are highlighted. Possible actions with a potential deterrence effect are discussed, including stockpiling cyber weapons, using deception, imposing sanctions, creating international agreements, retaliating with conventional weapons, improving defenses, developing automated counterattack mechanisms, and mounting offensive cyber actions. The effectiveness of these actions as deterrents to adversaries and recommendations for U.S. policy are made.

Subject Categories:

  • Computer Systems Management and Standards

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