Publications / SAND Report

Modeling attacker-defender interactions in information networks

Collins, Michael J.

The simplest conceptual model of cybersecurity implicitly views attackers and defenders as acting in isolation from one another: an attacker seeks to penetrate or disrupt a system that has been protected to a given level, while a defender attempts to thwart particular attacks. Such a model also views all non-malicious parties as having the same goal of preventing all attacks. But in fact, attackers and defenders are interacting parts of the same system, and different defenders have their own individual interests: defenders may be willing to accept some risk of successful attack if the cost of defense is too high. We have used game theory to develop models of how non-cooperative but non-malicious players in a network interact when there is a substantial cost associated with effective defensive measures. Although game theory has been applied in this area before, we have introduced some novel aspects of player behavior in our work, including: (1) A model of how players attempt to avoid the costs of defense and force others to assume these costs; (2) A model of how players interact when the cost of defending one node can be shared by other nodes; and (3) A model of the incentives for a defender to choose less expensive, but less effective, defensive actions.