2021 KGRI Working Papers

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Society-Centric Cyber Conflict
Understanding its dynamics and potential in East-Asia

No.1 Tobias BURGERS and David J. FARBER

August, 2021

This paper discusses the recent and worrisome increase in cyber-attacks that target critical infrastructure. We argue it is essential to better understand these attacks and their impact. By providing an analytical framework, we measure the impact of such attacks and argue that attacks with societal impacts trigger a new form of cyber conflict which we define as society-centric cyber conflict (S3C). We argue that in S3C, we must better understand the societal dimension of cyber conflict: It is necessary to understand a) the societal impact of cyber-attacks and b) societal reactions to the impact of such attacks, and c) how societal reactions could influence the dynamics of cyber conflict. We argue that these variables are specifically crucial in understanding the escalation dynamics in cyber conflict.

Highlighting the lack of data on societal impact and reactions, we provide a methodological approach to gather much-needed data and make a case for further research on S3C - in specific in the Asian-Pacific region where we believe the significant potential for S3C exist with implications for regional cybersecurity dynamics and (broader) security relations.