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Choosing the right cyberattack response is a complicated game

cyberattack
HACK REACT Responding to a cyberattack isn’t straightforward; a new game theory analysis reveals when a counterattack is and isn’t a good strategy.

Many Americans were outraged over Russia’s e-mail hacking during the 2016 presidential election and expected a vigorous response from the U.S. government. But new research that views cyberattacks from a game theory perspective suggests that the delayed response was a sound one.

While instinct suggests that such attacks deserve swift retaliation, viewing cyberwarfare through a mathematical lens can reveal situations where that knee-jerk response is useless. The new study, published online February 27 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, explores various cyberattack scenarios as games of strategy where rational choices are made by the attacker and the victim. This game theory analysis finds that how or even whether to respond to an attack depends on how much and what the players know about each other.

The take-home message of the study is sobering, says Jon Lindsay, a cybersecurity expert at the University of Toronto. “It’s not just about whodunit,” he says. “They’ve shown that you can invest a lot in identifying who carried out an attack but that’s not necessarily going to stop the attackers.”

The analysis makes explicit what many victims know, whether attacked by a schoolyard bully or foreign government: Vulnerability matters. Consider an attacker A, who strikes out at victim B. After the attack, the response depends largely on the vulnerability of the players. The victim can hurt a vulnerable attacker and gain from that strategy. Or, if the attacker is invulnerable, the victim can pay a cost for trying to fight back. In the schoolyard, for instance, telling a teacher about a bully might mean future torment with no relief, making it safest to do nothing.

In the realm of cyberattacks, vulnerability can be interpreted in several ways. The United States, for example, could have industrial secrets that make it…

Here’s Some Russian Travel Tips for Visiting America

Here are some things Russians think other Russians who are preparing to visit the U.S. should know.

1. Don’t Worry About Bringing Gifts to Americans …

Gift giving isn’t a big deal to Americans. In fact, according to the site Деловой этикет по-американски, “Americans do not expect them. On the contrary, an unexpected gift while conducting business can put an American in an awkward position. Such things for Americans suggest reciprocity.” But not all gifts will make Americans feel awful. They love gifts that are “purely Russian,” with some caveats:

If you do gift, it is desirable to bring something purely Russian when you visit the United States. But make it ‘purely Russian’ for modern America—not nesting dolls and samovar. Instead bring a good book about Moscow or Russian history, art and culture. Americans appreciate a good education and have great respect for cognitive literature.

2. … And definitely don’t bring business gifts.

“Business gifts in the U.S. are not acceptable,” the site Национальные особенности этикета в США cautions. “[T]hey often cause suspicion. Americans fear that they could be construed as a bribe, and in the United States that is strictly punishable by law.”

3. If you’re a man, be careful when dealing with American ladies.

According to the Russian site Этикет США, “U.S. etiquette prohibits flirting with a woman who is not your girlfriend or wife. If you are not acquainted with a woman, whether she be in a restaurant, on the street, or on the subway, do not look at her legs, etc. Americans could easily call the police on you, even for just ogling her.”

When it comes to introducing yourself to a woman, the site Национальные особенности этикета в США advises caution. You shouldn’t kiss her, not even her hand:

Welcome and introductions: men and women tend to shake hands. Mutual kissing and kissing ladies’ hands is not accepted. Also, women play a greater role in business. Often they insist to be treated exactly as an equal and not as a lady. In this regard, it is not acceptable to be excessively gallant, and you should avoid personal questions (do not find out whether she is married).

4. They’d prefer it if you got to the point …

“Americans generally do not like long intros and prefer to go directly to the subject matter, especially if it’s a phone conversation,” says the site Американский речевой этикет. “In Russia we talk about general topics before moving on to the reason for the call.”

That said, once you’re having a phone conversation, Americans won’t be thrilled if you just hang up on them. “Americans are often surprised by the Russian habit of quickly breaking off a conversation and hanging up,” the site notes. “Phone etiquette in America usually involves the gradual end of the conversation, confirmation agreements and standard closing remarks. By the way, ‘see you later’ should not be taken literally. That is a courtesy, and no more.”

5. … But would like you to avoid pointed statements.

According to Американский речевой этикет, “Russian conversational patterns often sound harsh to Americans. Statements such as, ‘You’re wrong,’ can be offensive. This can be interpreted as ‘You are telling lies!'” Instead, soften it up: “[I]t is better to say, ‘I do not think I can agree with this.'”

6. You Can Only Talk About Health in Certain Situations.

And that situation is when your friend is in the hospital. Otherwise, according to the site Американский речевой этикет, “What seems caring can be regarded as an invasion of privacy, lack of tact. You have to have some justification to show interest in their health.” Finally, the site notes, “Do not ask the effect of a magnetic storm (not many Americans know what that is) on their well-being.”

7. When your American friend invites you to a picnic, bring something sporty (and maybe a flask).

The site Деловой этикет по-американски discusses a hypothetical situation in which a Russian visitor to the United States is invited on the most American of outings: The Picnic. (This will only happen “if you’ve known each other for several years and are social outside the office,” though, so probably won’t be an option for the novice traveler.) According to the site, “As a rule, the invitation will be only on a weekend, and you don’t have to prepare for something extravagant. Everything is the same as ours,…