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Strategic Cyber Effects in Complex Systems: Understanding the US Air Transportation Sector

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Picture of airplane wing


US policy makers have increasingly coalesced around the need to develop a risk-based approach for managing the strategic effects of cyber attacks. This paper uses graph networks of US air infrastructures from Department of Transportation statistics, to develop a novel means, the Strategic Disruption Index (SDI), to assess the loss of effective transportation network capacity of passengers resulting from various cyber attack scenarios.  We also measure dynamic strategic effects using a complex systems model to assess the ensuing propagating air passenger delays. Results from this analysis show strategic effects are influenced by airport and airline network structure and induce dynamic effects across the entire sector. We find that the largest strategic effects on the national air infrastructure can be generated through disruption to key vendor relationships that have the potential to affect multiple private operators simultaneously and can create substantial variation across disparate regions. Policy makers who are charged with developing means of measuring national risk can apply these to prioritize resources that best limit the range of strategic risk to any number of critical infrastructures. 

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