Choosing What to Protect

We study a strategic model in which a defender must allocate defensive resources to a collection of locations, and an attacker must choose a location to attack. The defender does not know the attacker's preferences, while the attacker observes the defender's resource allocation. The defender's problem gives rise to negative externalities, in the sense that increasing the resources allocated to one location increases the likelihood of an attack at other locations. In equilibrium, the defender exploits these externalities to manipulate the attacker's behavior, sometimes optimally leaving a location undefended, and sometimes preferring a higher vulnerability at a particular location even if a lower risk could be achieved at zero cost. Key results of our model are as follows: (1) the defender prefers to allocate resources in a centralized (rather than decentralized) manner; (2) as the number of locations to be defended grows, the defender can cost effectively reduce the probability of a successful attack only if the number of valuable targets is bounded; (3) the optimal allocation of resources can be nonmonotonic in the relative value of the attacker's outside option; and (4) the defender prefers his or her defensive allocation to be public rather than secret.

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