(Tech Xplore)—A team with researches from several institutions in the U.S. has built a model to help decision makers decide when it is best to keep quiet about a cyber-attack or when to publicly blame those suspected of carrying out the attack. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team describes scenarios in which game theory can help those in a position to take action against hackers.
Getting hacked has become commonplace in the world today, particularly for public and private institutions. The damage from a cyber-attack can include identity theft, public embarrassment, and altering the outcome of a nationwide election. In this new effort, the researchers have found that game theory suggests publicly blaming those believed to be responsible for an attack may not always be the best course of action.
One example would be where an attacker has been identified but the victim has little means of recourse—The North Korean hack into Sony's database is such an example. Successfully stealing secrets from Sony was nothing but positive for North Korea, but because the country has little to hack, publicly announcing that they were the perpetrators only served to bolster that country's tech cred. The same might be said for a Russian team hacking into emails of Democratic Party leaders in the U.S.—when it was discovered who had done the deed, those who had been wronged took to the press to argue for revenge. Yet the only fallout appeared to be chest thumping by people all over Russia—even President Obama noted at the time that perhaps revealing the perpetrators only served to instill pride in the Russian people and their gang of hackers.
Looking at it from the other side, there are clear cases when going public is the best course of action—when hackers broke into the accounts of celebrities, stole private pictures and posted them on the internet, the publicity surrounding the event helped to finger those responsible—when the perpetrators were caught and sentenced to jail, it sent a very clear message to others who might be considering something similar.
Some have likened the business of government-sponsored hacking attacks as a new form of modern warfare and smaller attacks by angry groups as terrorism. This, the researchers suggest, means that groups or governments will need to have more tools available, such as the model they have built, to make better decisions when deciding how to retaliate under sometimes murky circumstances.