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Definition

asymmetric cyber attack

An asymmetric cyber attack refers to cyberwarfare that inflicts a proportionally large amount of damage compared to the resources used by targeting the victim's most vulnerable security measure. In these types of attacks, the perpetrator has an unfair (or asymmetric) advantage over the victim and can be impossible to detect. Oftentimes, the aggressor cannot compete in strength or numbers, making this a popular option among small intelligence groups.

Asymmetric cyber attacks are becoming more common due to their low cost, readily available equipment and large damage potential. In order to prevent asymmetric cyber attacks from occuring, companies, governments and networks should be aware of their own vulnerabilities and create strategies that address potential weak points in those areas. Asymmetric cyber attacks should be treated as a serious threat as the damage can be detrimental, lack boundaries or borders and cannot be specifically monitored.

Features of an Asymmetric Cyber Attack

  1. Technology: Cyber attacks are unconventional in that technology requires less planning and lower costs compared to physical terrorist activity.
  2. Tactics: The nature of asymmetry makes the plan of attack unfair, uneven, hard to track, and removes any of the victim’s advantages.
  3. Exploitation: In order to increase odds for success, asymmetric attackers research their victim’s vulnerabilities (such as outdated programs or overlooked security measures) and create strategies surrounding them.
  4. Impact: Asymmetric cyber attacks are employed to cause as much damage as possible physically and psychologically, including inflicting distress, shock and confusion.

Examples of Asymmetric Cyber Attacks

In cybersecurity, an asymmetric attack might involve a perpetrator attacking security measures that have been put in place, such as the firewall or intrusion detection system, by capitalizing on the weakest link (such as a user on the network who has not updated to the latest security patch or uses a low strength password). Specific examples of this are:

  • The attacks of September 11th, 2001 in New York City was unequal in terms of manpower and intelligence, but played on the weaknesses within air transportation and global policies to strike down computer networks as well as cause physical destruction.
  • In 2013, the Syrian Electronic Army hacked the Associated Press Twitter account, claiming that President Obama had been injured due to an explosion in the White House. This simple action wreaked havoc as markets and stocks crashed in response to the tweet.
This was last updated in September 2018

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