The Argument for a Defense-centric Cyber Strategy

In a recent report, Foreign Policy considers a critical question facing cybersecurity pros.  Namely, which strategy is more effective at combatting cyber threats—the offensive or defensive?

Comparing today’s technological evolution to the advantages seen just prior to the outbreak of World War I, FP argues that we should be focusing our attention (and our resources) on defense.

FP offers two main reasons.  First, offensive strategies take much longer than one would believe based on pop culture.  (“Neither Rome nor Stuxnet was built in a day.”)  Furthermore, added challenges are presented by the uncertainty of a cyber attack’s outcome. (“The actual effect on your target is hard to predict . . . meaning it is tough to know if the attack worked or what to do next.”)

So, what are the benefits of focusing on defense?  FP explains:

Cyberdefense is not as helpless as is often portrayed. . . . ‘The attacker has to take a number of steps: reconnaissance, build a weapon, deliver that weapon, pull information out of the network.  Each step creates a vulnerability . . . .  But a defender can stop the attack at any step.’

Additionally, as FP argues, defenders are free to explore various avenues of deterrence, such as the imposition of economic or diplomatic sanctions.

Regardless of which side has the advantage, any steps that raise the culpabilities of the defense make life harder on the offense and limit the incentives for attacks in the first place.  In cybersecurity, these include any and all measures that tighten network security and aid in forensics to track back attackers.

It’s also worth noting that this argument runs contrary to that expressed by the National Commission for Review of the Research and Development Programs of the United States Intelligence Community this past November, namely that intelligence agencies were/are focusing their efforts “on the development of offensive cyberweapons.”

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  1. […] In a recent report, Foreign Policy considers a critical question facing cybersecurity pros. Namely, which strategy is more effective at combatting cyber threats—the offensive or defensive?  […]

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