The Battlefield and the Wire: Linking Cyber Incidents and Militarized Disputes

Adelaide Baronchelli, Roberto Ricciuti


As cyber-attacks become commonly used in international disputes among states, debate has grown over the role of cyber capabilities in modern warfare. Some scholars believe that cyber engagements will play an increasing key role in military conflicts, gradually substituting more conventional form of kinetic combat. Others argue that cyber tool alone are unable to coerce the target suggesting a complementary use of both form of conflict. Little empirical evidence, however, is provided about the topic. In this paper, we analyse the relationship between cyber and material conflict through multilayer network analysis. Our aim is to understand if cyber incidents overlaps with kinetic conflictual interaction over the period from 2001 to 2016. We draw information from the Dyadic by Valeriano and Maness (2014) and the Integrated Crisis Early Warning System, ICEWS (Boschee et al., 2015). The first reports cyber incidents between rival states while the latter provides information on dyadic events between world nations. Grounding on these sources, we collect data on both cyber incidents and material conflictual events among a sample of 61 rival states. We interpret these data as a multiplex network where the same set of actors is connected by different type of relations which constitutes different layers. In our network, N is the set of countries, r refers to two types of relations, L is the set of the existing links: hence the rth relation is quantified by (N, Lr) for r = 1,2. Using multilayer network statistics, we first identify the main characteristics of the network. Descriptive statistics reveals the overlap between the two layers. Secondly, we use a Multilayer Exponential Random Graph Model (MERGM) to infer the role played by relevant statistics in the network formation. Preliminary findings show that communities are an important characteristic of the network. Using different computational algorithms, it is possible to find group of countries that are interact on the cyber domain and/or the physical one. Key actors on both layers are the USA and Russian Federation. Whereas the first is bridging across different communities, the latter is active among the groups of its neighbourhood. Results from the MERGM show that a model including multilayer statistics performs better than a single-layer model suggesting that cyber incidents and material conflict are related. Furthermore, evidence indicate the existence of complementarity between the two layers.

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