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Cyber Escalation Lab (CEL)


Book cover cyber image cropped

The Cyber Escalation Lab (CEL) is an institutional division of the Center for the Peace and Security Studies (cPASS).

This lab will serve as the institutional home for a critical mass of researchers capable of analyzing and contributing to an analytical social science of cyber conflict. CEL will develop a keystone data project to form the empirical basis for analysis and debate on the subject. Together, these strategies will allow young scholars at the intersection of cyber and international relations to test theories using this data and develop their CV and to build out their networks to succeed in the field

More about CEL

Our institutions are vulnerable to, and indeed have already been targeted by, cyber-attacks. At the same time, it is worth noting that much of the potential for harm is muted by motivation or other human social factors. While every rock could become a projectile, most remain on the ground. Only occasionally does someone pick up a rock and throw it at someone else. The capacity for harm usually tells us less about who strikes whom than an understanding of the basis for greed or grievance. At the same time, the intensity of virtual conflict varies more than any other domain. What causes some actors to intensify their aggression, when most cyber conflict is fairly mild?
We need to understand how humans and their institutions interact with technology in order to better assess how the introduction of a new kind of connectedness through cyberspace shapes decisions concerning power projection. Regrettably, at present we lack both the information and experts to do this. Increasing rigor in the social sciences paradoxically stands as a barrier to progress in this most technological of subjects. Cutting edge social science requires data to test theories and establish new consensus. Cyber security is a relatively new subject with (ironically) little in the way of canonical data or established theory to guide researchers. At the same time, a cadre of experts has been slow to develop because of the lack of data and the limited supply of rigorously trained experts capable of vetting new scholarship. Joint expertise across computer science and social science is even more rare, stymying efforts to master a complex subject area.

cPASS wishes to foster the development of scholars that both operate within existing disciplinary boundaries for professional success and between them for fruitful inquiry. The Cyber Escalation Lab will do this through two essential initiatives: (1) creating a critical mass of researchers capable of analyzing and contributing to an analytical social science of cyber conflict, and (2) developing a keystone data project to form the empirical basis for analysis and debate on the subject. 

Contributors to the Project

  • Erik Gartzke - Project Investigator
  • Rex Douglass - Project Scientist
  • Thomas Scherer - Postdoc
  • Jelena Vicic - Postdoc
  • Kennedy Pitcher - Graduate Student Researcher
  • Natalie Gold - Research Assistant
  • Giana Pedro -Research Assistant