I am interested in how states compete in the international system by using cyber capabilities as a tool of statecraft. I focus on what is traditionally considered non-violent competition - state activity below the threshold of armed conflict that does not result in grave destruction in human life and property. My research addresses topics such as cyber conflict and escalation, cyber-enabled influence operations on social media, institutional legitimacy, and political communication.

My methodological interests include experiments, wargaming, and textual analysis with focus on semantic network analysis.

Published Work

Deciphering Cyber Operations: The Use of Experimental Methods for Studying Military Strategic Concepts in Cyberspace

with Seth Hamman, Jack Mewhirter, Richard Harknett


The academic research community faces a significant hurdle when it comes to the study of nation-state cyber operations dynamics. For national security and commercial reasons, little to no cyber operations data is disclosed to the public. Without access to operational data, academic contributions will remain inhibited and the academy will be underutilized in the study of this important strategic domain. We claim that researchers can begin to overcome this information gap by designing experiments that take place within simulation environments. Such approaches are beneficial in that they allow researchers to generate data not easily collected or observed in real-world settings and increase the capacity of researchers to isolate causal effects.

In this paper, we describe a simulation environment specifically designed to study cyber operations dynamics below the threshold of armed attack—the competitive space where nearly all nation-state cyber operations activity takes place today. We discuss the simulation environment and then, to illustrate how it can be leveraged to generate tests of research hypotheses, detail our pilot experiment which examines the escalatory dynamics of defend forward activities.

Published in Cyber Defense Review, available here.

Click to Count: The Effects of Non-Partisan Cue Endorsements in Opting for Political Information

with Brian Calfano


The endorser effects literature expects the public to be swayed by cues offered by trusted or liked sources. A useful question for political marketing scholars is whether inherently nonpartisan cues impact public willingness to access nonpartisan political information. We use two social media-based field experiments and two survey-embedded experiments to test whether a randomly assigned visual marketing endorsement of political information by a known nonpartisan organization in paid ads (i.e., the League of Women Voters) encourages users to click on an information video about upcoming elections. We found an overwhelming subject response to the information video when the League of Women Voters (i.e., the endorser) cue is present, relative to the control group that received no cue in either the field or survey experiments (and controlling for partisanship and political interest in the survey experiments).

Published in Journal of Political Marketing, link here.

The Limits of Deterrence and the Need for Persistence

with Michael Fischerkeller and Richard Harknett


National cybersecurity strategy, to be effective, must align with the structural features and operational characteristics of cyberspace. This chapter posits that the strategy of deterrence does not satisfy this requirement. This essay makes three central arguments: first, any security strategy for cyberspace must recognize the unique characteristics of this environment. Second, there is a strategic mismatch between deterrence as a central strategy for cyberspace and the nature of cyberspace. Third, national security, advancement of interests, and the development of international norms require persistent cyber activity, not operational restraint, in an environment of constant contact—a strategy of persistent engagement.

Book chapter, published in The Cyber Deterrence Problem, Aaron Brantly, ed., Rowman and Littlefield. pp.21-38


The Other Means? Examining the Patterns and Dynamics of State Competition in Cyberspace

My dissertation examines the patterns and dynamics of state behavior in cyberspace. Cyberspace opened up a new theater of interstate peacetime competition wherein a set of unexpected targets emerged as the competition expanded. Contrary to expectations of earlier cybersecurity scholarship that focused on the threat of a devastating cyber attack, the majority of state activity in cyberspace does not result in grave destruction in human life and property. In the first dissertation paper, which provides the theoretical framework for this dissertation project, I ask, why were the early expectations about the cyber threat incorrect, and what do states compete over in cyberspace? Why do we observe high levels of activity below the threshold of armed conflict, but very little activity above it? I argue that the cyber security studies academic sub-field is experiencing a shift away from the war frame towards competition as the core concept. Through an in-depth comparison, I show that the stability-instability paradox can also explain the macro-dynamics of international cyber competition. Additionally, I argue that through cyber operations, states seek diverse material and non-material gains, carefully managing the competition below the threshold of armed conflict through several potential mechanisms.

From the operational perspective, state activity in cyberspace can take two main forms: 1) operations aimed at achieving change by compromising networked systems, and 2) operations aimed at producing change by affecting humans behind keyboards. In the second dissertation paper, I focus on continuous cyber operations, which fall into the first category. I ask, under what conditions do continuous cyber operations lead to escalation or to intensification of interaction dynamics? In this paper, I use experimental design informed by wargaming to build simulation scenarios for testing whether the use of continuous cyber operations would lead to escalation, and under what conditions. Results show that continuous cyber operations do not lead to escalation. Finally, in the third dissertation paper, I examine cyber-enabled influence operations. I ask, what are the mechanisms by which cyber-enabled influence operations work? What are the broader goals behind cyber-enabled influence operations? If framed as strategic campaigns, what are the inflection points in cyber-enabled influence operations, and why should we care about this type of cyber behavior? I argue that the goals of state actors have remained historically constant, but that cyberspace has increased the ability of state actors to pursue their goals and influence geopolitical outcomes. By applying semantic network analysis to Russian-bought Facebook ads (2015-2017), I unveil the mechanism used to target different domestic groups in the US surrounding the 2016 Presidential election. I show that, contrary to some of the expectations contextualizing this activity as a social media disinformation effort, factually correct information was utilized in the Russian cyber-enabled influence campaign, and that African Americans were disproportionately targeted. Overall, my dissertation highlights the importance of closely examining the operational dynamics of state activity in cyberspace by focusing on the activity below the threshold of armed conflict.

Copy available here.

Working papers

Finding Pressure Points: Cyber-Enabled Influence Operations and Foreign Interference in Domestic Politics


Russian cyber operations surrounding the 2016 US Presidential election have garnered significant interest in the media, as well as in political, academic, and policy circles. Reportedly, 126 million Americans were exposed to Russian cyber-enabled influence operations (CEIO) on Facebook in the period between 2015 and 2017. While Russian activity is often framed as disinformation, the analysis of the Russian CEIO efforts through Facebook ads is still limited. What were the mechanisms by which cyber-enabled influence operations (CEIO) work? What are the broader goals behind CEIO? Why should we care about this type of state behavior? In order to answer these questions, I examine the content, as well as the scope and scale of Russian-orchestrated social media information campaign on Facebook in the period between 2015 and 2017 in the context of 2016 US Presidential election. In this project, I use semantic network analysis (SNA), which explores the relationships between words/concepts in written texts. SNA can be defined as network analysis that treats words and concepts as nodes with the goal to extract networks of concepts and uncover concept meaning from the structure of those networks. The utilization of SNA allows me to identify key domestic groups in the US that were targeted by the Russian CEIO, as well as uncover the thematic content of ads that were used in targeting. I establish how different ads relate to each other in terms of themes that were used to target domestic groups in the US. I show that, contrary to some of the expectations contextualizing this activity as a social media disinformation effort, factually correct information was utilized in the Russian cyber-enabled influence campaign, and that African Americans were disproportionately targeted.

Responsible Skepticism: Countering Information Warfare in the Digital Age

with Greg Winger and Alex Oliver


The emergence of the internet as a central facet of modern society has enabled information warfare to gained new and frightening characteristics. Although individual practices such as propaganda, disinformation and kompromat are all well-established tools of statecraft, platforms like social media have increased their effectiveness whilst eroding the traditional checks used to counter such manipulative practices. Rather than abandoning the digital space, our research explores how the same mechanisms that have facilitated the rise of Fake News can be utilized to remedy the underlying susceptibility within the general population that make such practices effective. Specifically, instead of focusing on counter-narratives, we investigate whether digital advertising can stimulate critical thinking abilities and engender a more responsible approach to digital media. Drawing on past counter-propaganda campaigns from the Cold War, we produced three different advertisements that explicitly addressed the issues of Fake News and media manipulation. We then deployed these advertisements as part of a larger survey experiment conducted prior to the 2018 midterm elections. We found that this approach was successful and that advertisements designed to nurture analytical thinking helped blunt the effectiveness of Fake News on a host of international and domestic issues. ph. Click here to add your own text and edit me. It's easy.

Making Sanctions Work in Cyber Era: The Case of Iran

with collaborators


The use of sanctions to compel a foreign state to change its policies has been a frequently used tool in the US foreign policy toolkit. However, sanctions have rarely worked. The situations where countries agreed to change its major policies because of sanctions are even more rare. One of the countries that have found itself on the receiving end of this diplomatic instrument is Iran. The US first implemented sanctions against Iran during the hostage crisis in 1979, and since, the justification and the strength of sanctions changed, but they were never lifted. However, they produced little effect. To the surprise of many, in 2015, after decades of experiencing sanctions of varying intensity, Iran signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) agreeing to abandon its nuclear development program for another 10 to 15 years. The landmark deal was signed against all odds. How did this happen? We argue that the role of the Stuxnet virus needs to be examined as an important additional factor contributing to the success of Iran sanctions.