Remote assessment of countries’ cyber weapon capabilities


Today, a growing number of countries are incorporating cyber troops in their military and announcing intent to develop cyber weapons. Assessing countries’ cyber capabilities has important international policy implications. However, prior work on assessing such capabilities consists mainly of case studies. These case studies require substantial expertise and effort and thus only focus on a few “obvious countries”. In this paper, we develop a socio-computational methodology and populate the methodology using real data in order to assess cyber capabilities of all countries in the world. We leverage the fact that the strength of countries’ cyber capabilities depends on countries’ motivations and latent abilities to develop such capabilities. We develop a socio-cultural model to assess countries’ motivations and present metrics to assess countries’ latent abilities. More specifically, we adapt the Friedkin socio-cultural model in order to capture factors that motivate countries to acquire such capabilities. We then populate the model using publicly available data on international relations and the list of countries that have incorporated cyber security units in their military. Subsequently, we run the model in order to obtain an estimate of countries’ motivations. We estimate countries’ latent abilities by examining the strength of cyber security research, the existence of cyber security institutions, and information technology penetration in these countries. We combine motivation scores and latent ability scores in order to obtain cyber weapon capability scores: high, medium, low, and very low. Our methodology can be used by non-experts who only have access to publicly available data.

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  1. 1.

    The coefficient of the number of Internet users per 100 people is two orders of magnitude smaller than the coefficient of the ally having the capability because the number of Internet users per 100 people ranges from 0 to 100 whereas an ally having the capability is binary


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This work is supported in part by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Science for Peace and Security (SPS) grant SPS G5319, by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) under grant HDTRA11010102, and the Army Research Office (ARO) under grants ARO W911NF1310154 and ARO W911NF0910273, and the center for Computational Analysis of Social and Organizational Systems (CASOS). The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the official policies, either expressed or implied, of DTRA, ARO or the US government

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Correspondence to Ghita Mezzour.

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Mezzour, G., Carley, K.M. & Carley, L.R. Remote assessment of countries’ cyber weapon capabilities. Soc. Netw. Anal. Min. 8, 62 (2018).

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  • Cyber weapons
  • Socio-cultural modeling
  • Computational models
  • Cyber security