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The Myth Of Cyberattack Deterrence

Deterrence online is one of the biggest idiocies of the past couple of years. There are some interesting research possibilities in the subject matter, but not as it is portrayed today -- a cure-all strategy.
Deterrence online is one of the biggest idiocies of the past couple of years. There are some interesting research possibilities in the subject matter, but not as it is portrayed today -- a cure-all strategy.I covered this subject on Dark Reading before, discussing the supposed NSA computer attacks activity in Iraq, the NSA director's comments on the subject before the Senate, and the damage of engaging in DDoS.

Strategic experts are very comfortable with Cold War strategy following around 70 years of practicing it, so when asked to deal with the Internet, they ran to deterrence.

In order to have deterrence, you require first an ability to respond to an attack. On the Internet, you may never find out who is attacking you, and data may be intentionally misleading when you think you do have some bread crumbs.

It is just virtually impossible to tell who is behind an attack from technical data alone.

Thus, deterrence against whom?

You may say that by setting an occasional example, it doesn't matter who you attack. That is mostly false as well.

If we do know who is attacking us, then consider the players can now be (and indeed are) unaffiliated individuals or groups who may not care about the infrastructure of the country they are in nor have any infrastructure to speak of (which can in turn be targeted). Any attack will likely be against a third-party that has been hacked, i.e. compromised.

And if you're dealing with large-scale attacks, such as DDoS, responding in kind (with DDoS, botnets, etc.) will also hurt the Internet itself with collateral damage.

There are some particular instances where deterrence does work online, and it may also be used as a general addition to real-world deterrence (we have cyberweapons -- beware!), but these are just points that would muddy the water in the wider argument before us.

I think supporting such folly is generally folly itself. For further reading, I'd point you to this comprehensive and quite excellent document: "Cyber Deterrence and Cyber War," by Martin C. Libicki.

Follow Gadi Evron on Twitter: http://twitter.com/gadievron.

Gadi Evron is an independent security strategist based in Israel. Special to Dark Reading.

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