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Special Edition Calls for Less Doom, More Data in Cybersecurity

Ebombs, cyberterrorism, and all-out-cyberwarfare, these phrases are used to invoke fears of massive blackouts, hacked nuclear bombs, and society coming to a complete stop with the stroke of a few keys. The problem is that this picture doesn’t reflect reality. 

While the unknowns of cyber-related incidents make good fiction, they also lead to misunderstandings about how these conflicts impact everyday people. The rampant hyperbole surrounding cyber-conflict has created widespread uncertainty, which prompted Assistant Professor Ryan Shandler to lead a special issue of the Journal of Peace Research (JPR) dedicated to separating fact from fiction.

“Investigating cyber-conflict has proven to be enormously difficult,” Shandler says in the journal’s introduction

“This special issue lays out a vision of cybersecurity research that embraces a culture of rigorous inquiry based on theoretically robust, and policy relevant investigation.” 

Shandler is a guest editor for this special edition alongside his former Ph.D. advisor, Daphna Canetti, professor of political psychology at the University of Haifa. The pair have gathered a collection of 11 rigorous, data-driven research projects from 20 global cybersecurity political experts. 

Each of the 11 articles makes a standalone contribution. However, the special issue’s real contribution is that it serves as a roadmap to accurately analyze how cyber conflicts will play out amid real-world conflicts. 

“Looking ahead, when cyberattacks strike, this special issue allows us to produce confident predictions about how the conflict will play out,” said Shandler.”

“Until now, we were making do with speculation and guesses on the factors that guide decision-makers, the impact on the public, and the ramifications for global stability, but now we have the data to offer concrete insights.” 

Associate Professor Jon Lindsay and Assistant Professor Nadiya Kostyuk also represent Georgia Tech in JPR’s special issue. Lindsay and Kostyuk have shared appointments with the College of Computing and the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. 

In his contribution, Lindsay comprehensively looks at the relationship between cybersecurity, intelligence, and international relations. He raises important questions about the nature of cyber activities, the role of intelligence, and the implications for modern security and diplomacy. 

Lindsay cites the similarities between traditional espionage and cyber operations, presenting an argument favoring an interdisciplinary approach to studying intelligence and cybersecurity.

Kostyuk, on the other hand, investigates how cyber-capable militaries can affect relationships between allied countries. Her findings suggest that a country developing a cyber-capable military is not just a response to threats or available resources, but to keep pace with their ally’s cyber-capabilities as well. 

The results of Kostyuk’s study challenge the understanding of international security dynamics and the research of how military technologies and innovation spread.

Shandler’s article for the special issue of the journal explains how uncertainty guides public opinion after a cyberattack. Eric Jardine of Chainalysis and Nathaniel Porter of Virginia Tech join him in presenting their findings.

The trio shows that people grapple with the complexity and uncertainty inherent in cyber conflict by falling back upon pre-existing views about the intentions of the suspected attackers. 

Other topics in JPR’s special issue include:

  • An exploration of how the bias of discovering cyberattacks influence our understanding of cybersecurity.
  • A deep dive into the true motivations behind state-sponsored cyber economic espionage.
  • An experiment investigating public support for cyberattacks used in service of environmental activism. 
  • An examination of media bias toward cyberattacks. 
  • An in-depth wargaming study examining how cyber operations reduce the pressure for military action and contribute to de-escalatory military outcomes. 
  • A nuanced re-examination of Russia’s influence operations in the 2016 elections and a discovery that what is frequently described as ‘disinformation’ is often factually correct information. 
  • An international study of normally accepted behavior in cyberspace, resting on a newly compiled dataset of more than 34,000 official expressions of view by state actors regarding the international politics of cyberspace.

All articles in Cyber-Conflict: Moving from Speculation to Investigation, a special issue of the Journal of Peace Research, are open access for a short time. A complete archive of past editions is available on the JPR website

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