Cyber Deterrence

53 Pages Posted: 31 May 2012 Last revised: 9 Jun 2015

See all articles by Eric Talbot Jensen

Eric Talbot Jensen

Brigham Young University School of Law

Date Written: May 29, 2012


Cyber operations by both state actors and non-state actors are increasing in frequency and severity. As nations struggle to defend their networks and infrastructure, their ability to apply the principles of deterrence to cyber activities correspondingly increases in importance.

Cyber deterrence offers much more flexibility and increased options from traditional deterrence methodologies developed in the Cold War’s nuclear age. In addition to traditional retaliation, cyber deterrence includes options such as taking legal action; and making networks invisible, resilient, and interdependent. It also presents new ways to view and apply accepted methodologies such as invulnerability.

As the U.S. continues to develop and implement cyber deterrence strategies and capabilities, there are important legal issues that require consideration, including international law, the law of armed conflict, and U.S. domestic law. This paper will identify and discuss six prominent theories of cyber deterrence and briefly analyze legal issues associated with this vital area of national security. The law not only provides important factors that must be considered as cyber deterrence doctrine is solidified, but it also provides significant insights into how these theories of cyber deterrence can best be utilized to support national strategic goals.

Keywords: Cyber, Law of Armed Conflict, Deterrence, Armed Conflict, War, International Humanitarian Law, Computer, Security, Hacking, Hacktivist, Attack, Hack, National Security

JEL Classification: K19, K20, K23, K33

Suggested Citation

Jensen, Eric Talbot, Cyber Deterrence (May 29, 2012). 26 Emory International Law Review 773 (2012). Available at SSRN: or

Eric Talbot Jensen (Contact Author)

Brigham Young University School of Law ( email )

504 JRCB
Provo, UT 84602
United States

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