Fear, Uncertainty, and Dread: Cognitive Heuristics and Cyber Threats

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Fear, Uncertainty, and Dread: Cognitive Heuristics and Cyber Threats


  • Miguel Alberto Gomez Center for Security Studies, ETH Zurich, Switzerland
  • Eula Bianca Villar Department of Business and Technology, La Salle Universitat Ramon Llull, Spain


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Abstract:  Advances in cyber capabilities continue to cause apprehension among the public. With states engaging in cyber operations in pursuit of its perceived strategic utility, it is unsurprising that images of a “Cyber Pearl Harbor” remain appealing. It is crucial to note, however, that the offensive action in cyberspace has only had limited success over the past decade. It is estimated that less than 5% of these have achieved their stated political or strategic objectives. Moreover, only five states are thought to have the capabilities to inflict or threaten substantial damage. Consequently, this raises the question of what accounts for the continued sense of dread in cyberspace. The article posits that this dread results from the inappropriate use of cognitive shortcuts or heuristics. The findings herein suggest that the lack of experience in dealing with cyber operations encourages uncertainty, which motivates decision-makers to base their judgements on pre-existing, and possibly incorrect, conceptions of cyberspace. In response, the article segues into potential solutions that can mitigate unsubstantiated dread towards cyberspace by peering into the role that attributes at the organizational level can play in tempering the position of individuals. The suggested considerations are rooted in the interactions between the micro and macro level processes in forming judgments, sensemaking, and ultimately, mobilizing actions.

Keywords:  cybersecurity; cyber threats; dread; experiment; heuristics

Published:   11 June 2018


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v6i2.1279


© Miguel Alberto Gomez, Eula Bianca Villar. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.