Cyber Defense Triad

by edwardmroche

In the deterrence theory of nuclear war, the “triad” is an essential concept. It refers to three different delivery platforms for thermonuclear weapons.

  1. Land Based –– Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) are located in silos scattered around the United States, and perhaps in other places as well.
  2. Air Based –– Intercontinental Strategic Bombers such as the B-2 will fly to their targets and delivery the thermonuclear weapons.
  3. Sea Based –– Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) are launched from submarines, which are exceedingly impossible to detect.

In a typical scenario, the United States is attacked by incoming thermonuclear weapons. The land based missiles are destroyed. Many strategic bombers are caught on the ground and also destroyed.  Those bombers that are heading to their targets are shot out of the air.

Still, the SLBMs will be launched, and that force alone is enough to completely destroy the attacker, no matter how large they are.

As a result, any attacker is assured that if they attack, then they definitely will be destroyed also.  This is the basis for nuclear deterrence, and the basis for the world’s peace that we have enjoyed since the beginning of the nuclear age.

The Cyber Defense Triad

Since 9/11, the United States has made a very large investment in national security.  It has prepared not only for fighting terrorism overseas, but also for fighting it inside the United States.  This has resulted in a blurring of responsibilities between more than 3,984 federal, state and local organizations that are involved in anti-terrorist activities. Doing the math, that is more than 76 anti-terrorist organizations per state.

By taking out a small subset of these organizations, we can see the organizations involved with cyber security and cyber warfare. See Figure 1.


Figure 1 – The Cyber Defense Triad.

The two major government organizations responsible for cyber security are the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security. These organizations are supported by the intelligence establishment of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which sit on top of the eighteen (18) intelligence organizations operating in the United States.

One of the peculiar problems of cyber defense is the blurring of national borders. It is actually almost meaningless to think of a national border.  So in a sense, the dividing up of responsibilities between the Department of Defense and Homeland Security is archaic. You will notice that no such division exists in Russia.  (See previous post on Russian Cyber Defense Doctrine.)

But looking at this complex web of cyber defense capabilities, one wonders how well it will really work when under extreme pressure of a major cyber incident?

Cyber Deterrence Theory

It is an open question regarding whether or not the cyber capabilities that have been deployed by the United States are capable of cyber deterrence. Given the massive number of cyber attacks that have been reported, the answer is “no”.

Cyber Deterrence Theory needs more exploration. See future blog entries.