Date of Graduation

Spring 2012


Master of Science in Defense and Strategic Studies


Defense and Strategic Studies

Committee Chair

Robert Joseph


offensive cyber, defensive cyber, deterrence, attribution, China, Russia

Subject Categories

Defense and Security Studies


The United States is heavily reliant on information technology and cyberspace to function at the societal, economic, and military levels. As a consequence, the U.S. faces substantial threats from hostile foreign state and non-state actors conducting computer network exploitations of military and private-sector information networks, and disruptive or potentially destructive cyber network attacks. This thesis examines U.S. interests in cyberspace, the threat environment, legal issues, deterrence in cyberspace, and if a shift in balance towards a more offensive strategy for defending U.S. interests in cyberspace should be pursued. This thesis argues that the Department of Defense's current defensive deterrence-by-denial cyber strategy approach is not sufficient to deal with the current and projected cyber threat environment from state and non-state actors, such as China, Russia, rogue states, and terrorist groups. Instead, the U.S. should incorporate an offensive deterrence-by-punishment cyber component into its strategy. A deterrence-by-punishment strategy should include developing a credible offensive military cyber strategy, establishing a clear offensive cyber declaratory policy, and credible and effective offensive cyber and kinetic counterstrike capabilities for nation state and non-state actor cyber threats at the high-end of the cyber threat spectrum. For cyber threats at the lower-end of the cyber threat spectrum, the U.S. needs to develop and mature additional instruments of state power. This study counters claims that attribution capabilities in cyberspace are not mature enough to provide a clear and timely understanding of hostile cyber acts against U.S. Government and private-sector interests.


© Ryan Andrew Carey

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