Cyberterrorism: Its effects on psychological well-being, public confidence and political attitudes

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Does exposure to lethal and non-lethal cyberterrorism affect psychological well-being, public confidence and political attitudes? By what mechanisms do they do so? While cyberterrorism most often raises concerns about national security, its effects on individuals' psyche and cognition are overlooked. To address these questions we carried out three studies between 2013 and 2016 (n=1124, 909 and 592). Utilizing experimental manipulations (video clips) subjects were exposed to simulated lethal and non-lethal cyberterrorism. Our findings demonstrate a stressbased 'cyber terrorism effect'. Exposure to cyberterrorism is not benign and shares many traits with conventional terrorism: stress, anxiety, insecurity, a preference for security over liberty, a reevaluation of confidence in public institutions, a heightened perception of risk and support for forceful government policies. In the cyber realm, this translates into support for such policies as Internet surveillance, government regulation of the Internet and a forceful military response to cyberterrorism (including conventional, kinetic retaliation). These attitudes may impinge upon the tolerance and confidence necessary for a vibrant civil society. This effect is associated with non-lethal cyberterrorism that causes economic loss as well as with cyberterrorism that causes death and injury.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-58
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Cybersecurity
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was made possible, in part, by grants awarded to D.C. from the National Institute of Mental Health (R01 MH073687), from the Israel Science Foundation (594/15) and from the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation (2009460) and to M.L.G. from the Israel Science Foundation (156/13). An earlier version of this article was presented at Stanford University in March 2016 as part of the Cyber Policy Program Workshop on Strategic Uses of Offensive Cyber Operations. We wish to thank Herb Lin who organized the conference and provided valuable input during the early stages of this project and to the conference participants who commented on earlier drafts of this study during the workshop.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author 2017.


  • Cybersecurity
  • Cyberterrorism
  • Cyberwar
  • Exposure
  • Public confidence
  • Stress
  • Threat perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Social Psychology
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Law


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