Crisis and Escalation in Cyberspace

By Martin C. Libicki | Go to book overview

Preface

This report presents some of the results of a fiscal year 2011 RAND Project AIR FORCE study on the integration of kinetic and nonkinetic weapons, “U.S. and Threat Non-Kinetic Capabilities.” It discusses the management of cybercrises throughout the spectrum from precrisis to crisis to conflict.

The basic message is simple: Crisis and escalation in cyberspace can be managed as long as policymakers understand the key differences between nonkinetic conflict in cyberspace and kinetic conflict in the physical world. Among these differences are the tremendous scope that cyberdefense affords; the near impossibility and thus the pointlessness of trying to disarm an adversary’s ability to carry out cyberwar; and the great ambiguity associated with cyberoperations—notably, the broad disjunction between the attacker’s intent, the actual effect, and the target’s perception of what happened. Thus, strategies should concentrate on (1) recognizing that crisis instability in cyberspace arises largely from misperception, (2) promulgating norms that might modulate crisis reactions, (3) knowing when and how to defuse inadvertent crises stemming from incidents, (4) supporting actions with narrative rather than signaling, (5) bolstering defenses to the point at which potential adversaries no longer believe that cyberattacks (penetrating and disrupting or corrupting information systems, as opposed to cyberespionage) can alter the balance of forces, and (6) calibrating the use of offensive cyberoperations with an assessment of their escalation potential.

-iii-

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