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Why Cyber Is Different


Published: February 13, 2018

Cyber attacks are a new type of dangerous threats that are vastly different from traditional warfare. Cyber attacks threats are increasing, making powerful nations even more susceptible. Because cyber attacks can occur unexpectedly, we need to be more vigilant and increase coordination among organizations to prevent attacks.

Discussion Questions

  1. What would a cyber attack today look like?
  2. What kind of weapons are used in a cyber warfare?
  3. Is cyberspace at risk of being "militarized?"

Related Resources

  • To watch "How Cyber Attacks Threaten Our Security" by Amy Zegart, click here.
  • To watch Amy Zegart's TEDx Stanford University "Cyberwar," click here.
  • To read "A Stolen NSA Tool Is Being Used in a Global Cyberattack" by Amy Zegart, click here.
View Transcript

Cyber attacks pose new and dangerous threats that are distinctly different from traditional national security challenges.

Unlike traditional warfare, the most powerful countries are actually the most susceptible to cyber attacks because of how economically advanced and digitally connected they are.

Another difference is that cyber attacks often go after a nation’s critical infrastructure, which, in the U.S., is 85% owned by the private sector. This makes coordinating defenses especially difficult.

Also, with the expansion of the “Internet of things,” the available targets for cyber attacks keep increasing.

Today, there are more Internet-connected devices than humans on Earth.

Another difference is that cyber victims may not even realize they’ve been attacked. Many breaches are discovered months after they occur.

And finally, cyber overturns the traditional relationship between warning and response times.

Physical attacks often have longer warning times, but rapid responses. Cyber attacks, by contrast, can happen unexpectedly, but retaliation takes time because attribution is so difficult.

Technology is only part of the solution. Cyber security often requires changing the behavior of individuals and getting organizations to coordinate more effectively – so that we see dangers coming before it’s too late.