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Cyber War is Not Coming

Talar Demirdjian By Talar Demirdjian Published on February 10, 2016

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One swallow does not a summer make, similarly a couple of cyber-attacks throughout the years does not a Cyber war bring. There are far too many reasons why Cyber was is highly unlikely to happen, first of which is the basic definition of what makes a war according to international law. According to the laws of war, there is truly one and only "just cause" for war: a defence to aggression. Yet since aggression is typically comprehended to imply that human lives are directly in peril, it gets to be hard to advocate military reaction to a cyberattack that does not result in active or physical harm as in a traditional or Clausewitzian sense, for example, the interruption of a computer infrastructure or system that specifically kills no one. Further, on the internet, it might be hard to recognize an assault from vandalism or espionage, neither of which generally is sufficient to trigger a military reaction. Case in point, a shrewd cyberattack can be unpretentious and difficult to recognize from routine breakdowns and glitches. Another point is that in laws of war, the only accepted targets are combatants, and it would be increasingly difficult to create a cyber-attack aimed to cause casualties to only target combatants. Not to mention the fact that there should be more than a 1000 casualties for it to be considered an actual war. (Lawson, 2012) (Rid, 2013)

Of course, it is entirely possible that a cyber-attack may lead to casualties; if a hospital, traffic lights, an airplane etc. is hacked, but that still would not be an act of war, it would be an act of terrorism, or a tactic during war. (Lawson, 2012)

One of the most significant reasons why the occurrence of a Cyber war is unrealistic, is the fact that attribution of cyber-attacks, is almost impossible. Just-war theory also necessitates that combatants be recognisable to illuminate which marks are legitimate. This is the idea behind attribution of defenders and attackers. However, terrorism disregards this requisite and thus provokes moral condemnation. Similarly, a likely issue with cyberwarfare is that it is incredibly easy to hide the identities of participants. Which means that counterattack risks damaging innocent victims, if the people responsible are unidentified. The absence of attribution of Stuxnet, for example, produces ethical worries because it didn’t give Iran the opportunity to counterattack, promoting it towards even more extreme actions. (Lin, 2012)

Not only is attribution about moral accountability but also criminal and civil responsibility: it is important to know who is at blame and who can be absolved of blame. We need international agreements, to make attribution a reality. An agreement could be that cyberattacks would have to carry some sort of digital signature of responsible organization. Countries could possibly also agree in using networking protocols that would make attribution simpler, thus making them cooperate better on international network monitoring to find bases of attacks. Threat of trade sanctions, or other economic incentives, can make agreements such as this desirable. (Lin, 2012)

Certainly, instead of signalling a new age of violent conflict, the cyber-era has so far proved the exact opposite drift: “a computer-enabled assault on political violence”. Cyberattacks actually decrease instead of increasing political violence by allowing groups, individuals, and states to be involved in two different kinds of aggression that do not have the gravity of war: espionage and sabotage. Computer-based sabotage operations and weaponized computer code allow governments to carry out extremely targeted attacks on a rival’s technical systems without straightforwardly and physically causing harm to human managers and operators. Computer-assisted attacks give possibility to take data without inserting operatives in unsafe settings, hence decreasing the level of political and personal risk. (Rid, 2013)

The developments mentioned before highlight imperative changes in the structure of political violence, but they also signify limitations intrinsic in cyber weapons that immensely limit the usefulness of cyberattacks. These shortcomings appear to make it hard to use cyberweapons for anything besides one time, difficult to duplicate sabotage manoeuvres of problematic strategic worth that might even be counterproductive. Also, cyber-espionage usually necessitates refining traditional spy craft methods and depending even more on human intelligence. Used together, these aspects raise the question that the very idea of computer-assisted attacks will usher in a profoundly new era. (Rid, 2013)

“Cyber war has never happened in the past, it does not occur in the present, and it is highly unlikely that it will disturb our future” Thomas Rid.

Talar Demirdjian is a Research Analyst, with a MA in Counter-Terrorism, Security, & Society with minors in Radicalization and Cyber Security, has a BA in International Affairs & Diplomacy with a ... Show More

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