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Publisher: Journals Gateway
International Security (2017) 41 (3): 44–71.
Published: 01 January 2017
AbstractView article PDF
Understanding deterrence and dissuasion in cyberspace is often difficult because our minds are captured by Cold War images of massive retaliation to a nuclear attack by nuclear means. The analogy to nuclear deterrence is misleading, however, because many aspects of cyber behavior are more like other behaviors, such as crime, that states try (imperfectly) to deter. Preventing harm in cyberspace involves four complex mechanisms: threats of punishment, denial, entanglement, and norms. Even when punishment is used, deterrent threats need not be limited to cyber responses, and they may address general behavior as well as specific acts. Cyber threats are plentiful, often ambiguous, and difficult to attribute. Problems of attribution are said to limit deterrence and dissuasion in the cyber domain, but three of the major means—denial by defense, entanglement, and normative taboos—are not strongly hindered by the attribution problem. The effectiveness of different mechanisms depends on context, and the question of whether deterrence works in cyberspace depends on “who and what.” Not all cyberattacks are of equal importance; not all can be deterred; and not all rise to the level of significant national security threats. The lesson for policymakers is to focus on the most important attacks and to understand the context in which such attacks may occur and the full range of mechanisms available to prevent them.