Updated 10:27 PM EST, Sat, Feb 27, 2021

New Model Helps Predict When Cyberattacks May Happen

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Cyberwarfare is a currently expanding battlefield, and one that countries are definitely keen to have the upper hand in. Luckily for defense systems, two University of Michigan scientists have developed a mathematical model that attempts to predict the most optimal time a cyberattack may be launched.  

"The question of timing is analogous to the question of when to use a double agent to mislead the enemy, where it may be worth waiting for an important event but waiting too long may mean the double agent has been discovered," write Robert Axelrod and Rumen Illiev in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The cyberattack model consists of four main variables: cyberweapons (tools of attack), stealth (the likelihood the victim will realize the attack and stop it from happening again), persistence (the chance the weapon can be held onto and used in the future), and threshold (the point in time after which the gain exceeds the risk from using a cyberweapon). Using these variables, the researchers were able to surmise some simple concepts.

For instance, the longer a vulnerability has existed, the more likely it will continue to go unnoticed, meaning it isn't as necessary to strike quickly. Also, a cyberweapon with a high stealth factor should be used quicker than a non-stealthy weapon since it can stay undetected for longer. These ideas aren't rocket science, and they certainly don't point to any specific time of day, but the main driving force behind the research is to simply get the ball rolling on understanding the new, complex digital battleground.

"One of our major contributions is to develop some concepts to deal with this new realm of cyber conflict," Axelrod said. "It took 15 years in the nuclear world for people to understand the implications of nuclear technology. It is our hope that it won't take that long to understand the strategic capabilities of cyber technology."

The PNAS study also goes into several case studies, including the infamous Stuxnet debacle. 

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