The Internet Hackers

By: Karla Muniz

Cyberwar is an exaggerated threat, only by adopting an exceptionally elastic definition of cyber attack can we say they are frequent. Many militaries are developing attack capabilities, but this is not some revolutionary and immensely destructive new form of warfare that any random citizen or hacker can engage in at will. Nations are afraid of cyber war and are careful to stay below the threshold of what could be considered under international law the use of force or an act of war. Crime, even if state sponsored, does not justify a military response. Countries do not go to war over espionage. There is intense hostile activity in cyberspace, but it stays below the threshold of attack.

Information is a weapon and a threat to authoritarian regimes, and they want to limit access to websites and social networks. This effort to extend cyber attack to include access to information, however, makes little sense. It distorts long-standing ideas on warfare and military action by disconnecting them from the concept of the use of armed force and violence. The use of force produces immediate physical harm and is central to defining attack and warfare. Publishing or sharing an idea is not the use of force. Though an expanded definition of warfare may serve the political interests of authoritarian regimes, it is not an accurate description of military action or attack. There are countries that could launch damaging cyber attacks. At least 5 militaries have advanced cyber-attack capabilities, and at least another 30 countries intend to acquire them. These high-end opponents have the resources and skills to overcome most defenses. Just as only a few countries had aircraft in 1914 but most militaries had acquired them 10 years later, every military will eventually acquire some level of cyber-attack capability. Cyber attacks will likely be used only in combination with other military actions, but they will be part of any future conflict. We can regard them as another weapons system with both tactical and strategic uses, similar to missiles or aircraft that can be launched from a distance and strike rapidly at a target.

Identifying strategic targets, strikes on critical infrastructure carry a higher degree of risk for the attacker if they are used against targets outside the theater of military operations or in the opponent's homeland. An attack on the networks of a deployed military force is to be expected. Attacks on civilian targets in the opponent's homeland are another matter and may escalate any conflict. Military planning will need to consider when it is beneficial to launch cyber attacks that damage critical infrastructure in order to strain and distract the opposing political leadership, and when it is better to limit any cyber strikes to military targets in theater.

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