A blog's title is following:

Pak-based cyber attacks use phishing to target Indian defence sites

IMO, if we remove 'use phishing' then 'attacks' is okay in this title because an attack cannot 'use' anything including phishing. In a way, 'attackers' looks more proper for this title.

Is my opinion right? I know the question is quite simple, but I am not sure about 'attacks' is written here in an idiomatic manner.

  • 1
    Why do you think an attack cannot use something?
    – stangdon
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 14:42
  • 1
    "Cyber attacks use" is fairly common. For example, "Your business depends on the web, email and file exchange. That's why over 90% of cyber attacks use those communication channels to infiltrate your organization ..." (source) You could say "cyber attackers" and have the same meaning. Sometimes a cyber attack is not actively being conducted by a person. Often attacks are automated, like a virus that sends phishing e-mails from an infected computer, so "attacks use" may be a little more precise.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 17:15

1 Answer 1


Good question.

In such special structure, the subject is a noun often inanimate. And, it's okay. Here, the subject is 'attacks' that use phishing to target Indian defense sites.

If you are confused, I'll get you another example where you'll think that 'citizens' should be the choice!

The city witnesses huge traffic on Mondays

But, here, 'city' is the subject, and it can witness!

  • 1
    OP doesn't explicitly say so, but I guess you're right that his misgivings arise from the mistaken assumption that only sentient entities with goals can mount an attack. Given which, you may be better placed than most native speakers to recognize this and answer appropriately. Is there any tendency in your own native language to avoid using "purposeful" verbs with inanimate subjects? What about "feeling-based" verbs, as in The earth suffered perpetual drought ??? Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 14:48
  • In my native/national language, all inanimate/animate nouns have gender... so there's no problem for that. @FumbleFingers
    – Maulik V
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 6:41

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