Can Offensive Cyber Operations Serve as a Form of Deterrence?


On September 19, the Center for the National Interest hosted a discussion on the risks and opportunities of employing offensive cyber operations to deter and disrupt foreign cyber actors.

Is playing cyber offense the best form of defense? Do our formidable cyber offensive capabilities make it less likely that foreign cyber actors will attack the United States? US cyber policy is increasingly premised on the belief that the answer to both questions is yes.

But not all cyber professionals agree, and some are suggesting that too much emphasis on offense may actually make foreign cyber threats even more dangerous. The Center’s Vice President & Director of Studies George Beebe was on hand to lead this discussion, which explored both perspectives to these important issues.

Joining George on the panel was Jason Healey, a Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University’s School for International and Public Affairs specializing in cyber conflict, competition, and cooperation. He was the editor of the first history of conflict in cyberspace A Fierce Domain: Cyber Conflict, 1986 to 2012 and co-authored the book Cyber Security Policy Guidebook. As Director for Cyber Infrastructure Protection at the White House from 2003 to 2005, he helped advise President Bush and coordinated US efforts to secure US cyberspace and critical infrastructure.

Also on hand to lend his expertise was Dr. Ben Buchanan, an assistant professor at Georgetown University and a Global Fellow at the Wilson Center. Dr. Buchanan is the author of the book The Cyber Security Dilemma, which examines the intersection between cyber security and statecraft. Dr. Buchanan was a Marshall Scholar at Kings College London and a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Please visit the Center for the National Interest’s YouTube page to watch a full video of the discussion, which can also be accessed here.