A Matter of Time: On the Transitory Nature of Cyber Weapons

Posted: 25 Oct 2016 Last revised: 1 Mar 2017

Date Written: September 1, 2016


This article examines the transitory nature of cyber weapons. Shedding light on this highly understudied facet is important both for grasping how cyberspace affects international security and policymakers’ efforts to make accurate decisions regarding the deployment of cyber weapons. First, laying out the life cycle of a cyber weapon, I argue that these offensive capabilities are both different in ‘degree’ and in ‘kind’ compared to other weapons with respect to their temporary ability to cause harm or damage. Second, I develop six propositions which indicate that not only technical features, inherent to the different types of cyber capabilities – i.e. the type of exploited vulnerability, access and payload – but also offender and defender characteristics explain differences in transitoriness between cyber weapons. Finally, drawing out the implications, I reveal that the transitory nature of cyber weapon’s benefits great powers, changes the incentive structure for offensive cyber cooperation, and induces a different funding structure for (military) cyber programs compared to conventional weapon programs. I also note that the time-dependent dynamic underlying cyber weapons potentially explains the limited deployment of cyber weapons compared to espionage tools.

Keywords: Cyber Weapons, Transitory, Cyberspace, Window of Exposure, Vulnerability, Persistence

Suggested Citation

Smeets, Max, A Matter of Time: On the Transitory Nature of Cyber Weapons (September 1, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2857621 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2857621

Max Smeets (Contact Author)

University of Oxford ( email )

St. John's College
St. Giles
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 3JP
United Kingdom

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