Stackelberg vs. Nash in security games: Interchangeability, equivalence, and uniqueness

Conference Paper

There has been significant recent interest in game theoretic approaches to security, with much of the recent research focused on utilizing the leader-follower Stackelberg game model; for example, these games are at the heart of major applications such as the ARMOR program deployed for security at the LAX airport since 2007 and the IRIS program in use by the US Federal Air Marshals (FAMS). The foundational assumption for using Stackelberg games is that security forces (leaders), acting first, commit to a randomized strategy; while their adversaries (followers) choose their best response after surveillance of this randomized strategy. Yet, in many situations, the followers may act without observation of the leader's strategy, essentially converting the game into a simultaneous-move game model. Previous work fails to address how a leader should compute her strategy given this fundamental uncertainty about the type of game faced. Focusing on the complex games that are directly inspired by real-world security applications, the paper provides four contributions in the context of a general class of security games. First, exploiting the structure of these security games, the paper shows that the Nash equilibria in security games are interchangeable, thus alleviating the equilibrium selection problem. Second, resolving the leader's dilemma, it shows that under a natural restriction on security games, any Stackelberg strategy is also a Nash equilibrium strategy; and furthermore, the solution is unique in a class of real-world security games of which ARMOR is a key exemplar. Third, when faced with a follower that can attack multiple targets, many of these properties no longer hold. Fourth, our experimental results emphasize positive properties of games that do not fit our restrictions. Our contributions have major implications for the real-world applications. Copyright © 2010, International Foundation for Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems ( All rights reserved.

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Yin, Z; Korzhyk, D; Kiekintveld, C; Conitzer, V; Tambe, M

Published Date

  • January 1, 2010

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 2 /

Start / End Page

  • 1139 - 1146

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1558-2914

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1548-8403

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9781617387715

Citation Source

  • Scopus