As the Stuxnet computer worm attack on Iranian nuclear centrifuges made clear, the world’s growing reliance on advanced technologies means that nations are all potential targets of cyber sabotage. Now researchers propose a model for what the best strategies might be for when to launch these attacks, findings that could help authorities handle such conflicts and know what to expect from opponents.
A number of recent international conflicts have already revealed how nations can be vulnerable to cyber attacks. For instance, weeks before bombs started falling on the country of Georgia in 2008, a series of cyber attacks on the nation’s Internet infrastructure overwhelmed and disabled numerous servers and websites. The event may be the first time a known cyber attack coincided with a shooting war. In 2013, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said cyber attacks are first among the threats the United States faces today.
Policy researchers Robert Axelrod and Rumen Iliev at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor wanted to analyze the strategic implications of high-tech conflicts. They focused on the timing of such events, and on resources one could use for surprise attacks.