global politics, relationally

Cyber Changes Everything?


It seems as if writing up a blog to support an article release is becoming necessary, so I will do my part to support a recent article Ryan Maness and I published at Armed Forces and Society (ungated here). This is a particularly interesting article for me because the goal of our work has always been to get to this point, to create a dataset that would allow us to empirically test cyber security questions – which is exactly what we do here.

The problem is that the cyber security discourse is filled with suggestions and ideas considered confirmed or conventional, with little relation to whatever the reality of the situation is (given that we know so little about reality).  At conferences where cyber security is a key issue, it was quite frequently suggested that cyber-attacks were changing the dynamics of state interactions and altering foreign policy.  Given that I could think of few examples where this was the case, I wanted empirical evidence to back up these claims that seemed to be conventional wisdom.

This led us to this article.  Based on the dataset of cyber actions we have created (hoping to have this updated for 2000-2015 in a few years), we considered if there was an impact on the conflict and cooperation levels of a dyad after the attack (conflict and cooperation levels come from events data but as a the more stable dependent variable rather than the more finicky independent variable).  Our data was all rival dyads engaged in cyber actions between 2001-2011 at weekly intervals.

The results were mixed, some actions, like attacks meant to change behavior led to profoundly negative reactions between states.  Most other actions had literally no consistent impact at all.  Some dyads like China and the United States even got more cooperative after cyber encounters.

The only other consistent relationship we did see was that DDoS attacks lead to an uptick in negative dynamics between states.  This was strange considering it was the least a state can do, almost literally.  DDoS attacks are so easy they can be ordered on the internet (not providing a link for this one).  We theorize that these actions provoke negative reactions because they are so public, but we really don’t know.

This why I would like to see more surveys on perceptions surrounding cyber actions of elites and the general public.  Most simply ask if cyber actions are dangerous or a national threat, but getting at the impact of attacks and the psychology of the question (like this neat experiment) is much more interesting.  Regardless, cyber is a developing field, there are many great questions that need to be asked and answered.  Take a look at our book covering these issues and many more, coming to an ereader near you soon.

Author: Brandon Valeriano

Brandon Valeriano is the Donald Bren Chair of Armed Politics at the Marine Corps University.