Cyberwar: From Fiction to Fact


Computers rather than missiles could pose the biggest security threat of the future with nations able to cripple rivals by using cyberwarfare. Computer strikes could damage a country's infrastructure as well as defence equipment, cutting off communications, power supplies and military command systems. Major interference on a large scale can be generated by computer viruses. A computer hacker can launch an attack by infiltrating databases and destroying critical data in any industry, company or government organization. Imagine the devastation of a deliberate power outage or shortage in the water supply. We’ve seen the dire results when this occurs because of a natural disaster. Such conflict has the ability to completely incapacitate an economy. The use of computers and internet in conducting warfare in cyberspace, is becoming increasingly more sophisticated.

McAfee Virtual Criminology Report 2009

According to this report major countries and nation-states are engaged in a "Cyber Cold War," amassing cyberweapons, conducting espionage, and testing networks in preparation for using the Internet to conduct war. In particular, countries gearing up for cyberoffensives are the USA, Israel, Russia, China and France. Pinpointing the source of cyberattacks is usually difficult if not impossible, the motivations can only be speculated upon, making the whole cyberwar debate an intellectual exercise at this point.

Dmitri Alperovitch, vice president of threat research at McAfee, speculates for instance that the July 4 attacks denial-of-service on websites in the U.S. and South Korea could have been a test by an foreign entity to see if flooding South Korean networks and the transcontinental communications between the U.S. and South Korea would disrupt the ability of the U.S. military in South Korea to communicate with military leaders in Washington, D.C., and the Pacific Command in Hawaii. There have been earlier attacks which indicates cyberwarfare too. Estonian government and commercial sites suffered debilitating denial-of-service attacks in 2007, and last year sites in Georgia were attacked during the South Ossetia war. According to the McAfee report, orchestrated by civilian attackers.

Cyberwarfare and international law

Existing international law in the area of cybercrime falls under three main umbrellas: the UN Charter, the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC), and the Convention on Cybercrime. The UN Charter provides baseline law for interstate aggression, but is limited to considerations about force, which may not apply to cyberwarfare. LOAC conventions govern acts during wartime. The Convention on Cybercrime is a multilateral treaty that specifically addresses computer-related crime. Jon Jurich states, in his article in the Chicago Journal of International law, that these current international laws, attempt to govern the use of application of Information Warfare and to limit its use. They do not, however, impose a ban on weapons designed to disrupt electronic communications. Jurich concludes that the fast developments of using information warfare makes a new governing law, a necessity. Cyberwar is no fiction anymore, it is a reality!