Crisis and Escalation in Cyberspace

By Martin C. Libicki | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Can Cybercrises Be Managed?

Crises are usually best avoided or resolved with speed. Cybercrises are no exception. Perhaps there are times when a lesson needs to be forced on others. Perhaps, someone else wants a crisis for reasons having nothing to do with what any other state (or at least the United States) did, and a response of some sort is, alas, unavoidable. But, often, there are choices that can be made.

Cybercrises are not an inevitable feature of cyberspace per se. Because it is nearly impossible to disarm cyberattackers, and because cyberdefense is rarely utilized to its fullest (e.g., by disconnecting networks), states have many options short of hostility if they sense trouble on the horizon in cyberspace. In the nuclear era, the threat was from the delicate balance of fear, while, in cyberspace, doubt, uncertainty, and the resulting confusion are more salient. This makes real the prospect of a cybercrisis among quarreling states whenever cooler heads do not prevail.

Crises have before and during phases. Many of the same principles that work to moderate or manage politico-military crises beforehand apply to cybercrises as well: Do not present an easy and lucrative target, foster at least a hint of intimidation for those that do not mean well, and look for norms that help in distinguishing aggression that demands a response from behavior that does not. The principles apply differently in cyberspace, of course, a medium in which doubt and uncertainty play much the same role that fear played in the nuclear crises. A state’s attempts to demonstrate its ability to defend and attack are not so easy. But the basics are the same.

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