Cyber Deterrence: Tougher in Theory than in Practice?
SENATE (UNITED STATES) WASHINGTON DC COMMITTEE ON ARMED SERVICES
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While cyberspace does pose unique challenges for deterrence strategists, real-world cases demonstrate that those challenges can be overcome. The 2007 Estonia case demonstrates that attribution and asymmetry in cyberspace may not be as challenging as many authors argue. Instead, assigned responsibility can alleviate the need for attribution, and asymmetry in the physical domains proves more consequential than cyber asymmetry. The 2008 Georgia case reinforces the conclusions of the Estonia case. Although Russia might deny a role in the cyber attacks, attribution becomes a moot issue as Russian tanks roll across the Georgian border. Again, geopolitics trumped the difficulties unique to cyber deterrence. The cases of cyber espionage demonstrate several more key points. First, without reassuring potential adversaries of reciprocal restraint, the United States will continue being the victim of cyber espionage just as it may victimize other states. Moreover, without offering reassurance, the United States cannot legitimately retaliate against cyber spies -- it must instead seek to deter these attacks through strategies of futility, interdependence, and counterproductivity. Although these areas have theoretical promise, the cases show they have not lived up to their potential. Together, these cases have implications for cyber deterrence strategies. Attribution may be difficult, but it is not impossible. Strategic cyber attacks may not have materialized yet, but cyber deterrence strategies must account for the scalability of surreptitious cyber attacks. While futility, interdependence, and counterproductivity have promise, they have not yet yielded the desired results. Reassurance is an important and as yet unaccounted for component of a reliable cyber deterrence strategy, and escalation dominance remains a key component of effective deterrence, including cyber deterrence.
- Government and Political Science
- Computer Systems
- Military Intelligence
- Unconventional Warfare