Welcome!

Government Cloud Authors: Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Dr. Gopala Krishna Behara, Raju Myadam

Related Topics: Government Cloud

Government Cloud: Blog Feed Post

Cyber War and the Expanding Definition of War

Engaging with cybersecurity challenges is essential to ensuring war remains a continuation of politics by other means

Editor’s note: This post by  provides context on cyber conflict, an area of interest at the nexus of national security and technology. – bg

Recently, Dr. Thomas Rid of the War Studies department of King’s College in London published an article in the Journal of Strategic Studies titled, “Cyber War Will Not Take Place.” Rid’s essay relies upon a definition of war taken from the work of Carl von Clausewitz to assess whether cyber attacks can be accurately described as “stand-alone” acts of war. His conclusion is that we have yet to see any cyber attacks that, on their own, meet Clausewitz’s definition. What’s more, he predicts that we are unlikely to see stand-alone acts of cyber war in the future. Nonetheless, he does acknowledge that cyber threats are real and that various cyber tools and techniques are becoming increasingly important in international conflict, including those used for sabotage, espionage, and subversion.

At a time of increasing concern over prospective cyber threats, it is not surprising that Rid’s essay has added fuel to the ongoing debate between cyber security proponents and the so-called “cyber skeptics.” For example, cyber war expert, author, and CEO Jeffrey Carr has written a spirited response to Rid’s essay. In this post, I argue that Carr’s response misses a key component of Rid’s argument, that the debate between Rid and Carr is exemplary of an emerging debate over the definition of “war” more generally, and that the complexities of cyber conflict demand that we move beyond the kind of binary thinking exhibited in this debate.

First, Carr provides three examples of cyber attacks that he says meet the Clausewitzian definition of war provided by Rid because all three are “lethal, instrumental, and political.” His three examples:

  1. Kyrgyz Intelligence assassinates Gennady Pavlyuk. Kyrgyz intelligence cracked Pavlyuk’s email account and used the information they obtained to lure him out of the country under false pretenses resulting in his murder.
  2. Mossad assassinates Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh. Israel’s Mossad mounts an operation to assassinate Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh which includes infecting Al-Mabhouh’s computer with a trojan horse virus.
  3. Iran’s IRGC arrests 30 dissidents after cracking U.S. hosted webservers.

None of these are acts of war in the conventional sense of the term. These are 1) subterfuge in support of assassination, 2) espionage in support of assassination, and 3) espionage in support of political repression. In the first case, Kyrgyz intelligence supposedly assassinated one of its own citizens. That is not war as we typically understand it. In the third case, espionage was used to aid in carrying out an act of political repression. But neither of those acts by themselves (espionage nor arresting one’s own citizens) are war. The only example that might be considered war is the second case. But even here, given the ongoing state of violent conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, which has included many assassinations, it is hard to see this event as somehow distinct.

But more importantly, Carr’s response misses a key component of Rid’s argument, namely, that it was about whether stand-alone cyber attacks have been or will be acts of war. Not only is it questionable whether any of Carr’s counter examples in their totality are “acts of war,” it is clear that in none of them can the cyber attack components be seen as stand-alone acts of war. The cyber attacks in each example were not the direct causes of the ultimate outcomes. Email hacking did not directly kill Gennady Pavlyuk. The trojan horse did not kill Mahmoud Al-Mabhoud. Cracked servers did not directly arrest those Iranian protestors. All of those actions (assassinations and arrests of political dissidents) have occurred, do occur, and will continue to occur without the aid of cyber attacks. The use of cyber attack tools and techniques in support of them in these cases does not make them nor the use of cyber tools and techniques “acts of war.”

Second, the debate between Thomas Rid and Jeffrey Carr is exemplary of an emerging debate that is less about the definition of “cyber war” and more about the definition of “war” in general. There is an emerging debate between expansionists and traditionalists. Expansionists argue that current definitions of “war,” either from the classic theorists like Clausewitz or the law of war, are inadequate and should be expanded to include a wide range of acts that traditionally would not be considered war. The traditionalists argue that existing definitions of war are more than adequate, that while the practice of war might change (including weapons and tactics) the fundamental nature of war does not: it is still about damage, destruction, injury, or death inflicted for political purposes, usually by state actors.

In this instance, Carr makes an expansionist argument when he claims that “traditional thinking about warfare has been made obsolete by our dependence upon cyber-space-time.” In a previous essay, he citedNATO study of the legal lessons learned as a result of the 2008 cyber attacks against the country of Georgia. That report concluded that the cyber attacks, by themselves, did not count as “armed attack” (the legal term for what we colloquially call an “act of war”) under current definitions in the law of war. In response, the authors proposed that “new approaches to traditional law of war principles need to be developed.” Therefore, they advocated that the advent of “new bloodless types of warfare” like cyber war mean that “the definition of ‘attack’ should not be strictly connected with established meanings of death, injury, damage and destruction” (p. 30). Because the cyber attack on Georgia (and practically all other cyber attacks to date) do not come close to meeting traditional definitions of war from law of war, theorists like Clausewitz, or even common understandings of the term, the response has been to call for the redefinition of war itself to include a whole host of “bloodless” acts.

Of course, Rid is taking a traditionalist approach in this debate. He is arguing that the fundamental nature of war has not changed and is using the work of a widely-cited, well-respected classic theorist to support his argument. Others, such as Maj. Gen. Charles Dunlap, Jr. (ret) have also taken the traditionalist position. Dunlap has argued convincingly that the law of war definitions of “armed attack” are more than adequate for evaluating cyber attacks. In doing so, he is following closely the analysis provided by Michael Schmitt more than a decade ago, which is the foundation for the “effects-based” approach to determining when a cyber attack rises to the level of armed attack, when it is war. In the traditionalist view, there are no “bloodless” acts of war. Violence, death, destruction, damage, injury are required. Even then, not every act of this sort is armed attack or war (see examples 1 and 3 above).

My own views are more in line with those of the traditionalists than the expansionists. I believe that it is dangerous (for many reasons that I will not elaborate here) to expand definitions of armed attack and war. I merely wish to call attention to the fact that the debate over the definition of cyber war is becoming a debate over the definition of war in general. This is an important distinction. The outcomes of this debate will have profound impacts on the future of politics, economics, security, and individual liberties.

Finally, because the outcomes of this debate will be so important, it is all the more disappointing that issues of cyber security are so often framed in such binary terms. For example, because Rid does not accept that all malicious cyber activity is “war,” Carr lumps him into the category of cyber war “skeptics.” He made a similar move with the authors of a recent OECD report that claimed that cyber attacks do not have the ability to cause systemic shocks that are global in scope. Nonetheless, in each case, Rid and the authors of the OECD report make it clear that they take cyber threats seriously. They merely seek to be more realistic in their assessments of the impacts of cyber attacks and more precise in their categorization of the varying types of malicious actions in/through cyberspace. To be fair, though Rid’s position is more nuanced than Carr admits in his response, Rid nonetheless invites Carr’s application of a binary, proponent/skeptic categorization because his essay largely framed cyber war as a yes/no question.

Effectively addressing the complex challenges of cyber security in a globalized world demand that the public debate about cyber security move beyond such framings. Are cyber attacks war? There needs to be room for answers like, “Maybe, it depends” and “No, but there are still serious challenges.” The truth will likely lie somewhere in the gray, muddled middle between yes and no, black and white. Engaging with the messy complexity of cybersecurity challenges is essential to ensuring that war remains a continuation of politics by other means instead of politics (and every other aspect of daily life) becoming a continuation of war by other means.

[Cross-posted from Forbes.com.]

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley writes on enterprise IT. He is a founder and partner at Cognitio Corp and publsher of CTOvision.com

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that Nihon Micron will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Nihon Micron Co., Ltd. strives for technological innovation to establish high-density, high-precision processing technology for providing printed circuit board and metal mount RFID tags used for communication devices. For more inf...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Massive Networks, that helps your business operate seamlessly with fast, reliable, and secure internet and network solutions, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. As a premier telecommunications provider, Massive Networks is headquartered out of Louisville, Colorado. With years of experience under their belt, their team of...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Suzuki Inc. will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Suzuki Inc. is a semiconductor-related business, including sales of consuming parts, parts repair, and maintenance for semiconductor manufacturing machines, etc. It is also a health care business providing experimental research for...
SYS-CON Events announced today that mruby Forum will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. mruby is the lightweight implementation of the Ruby language. We introduce mruby and the mruby IoT framework that enhances development productivity. For more information, visit http://forum.mruby.org/.
Elon Musk is among the notable industry figures who worries about the power of AI to destroy rather than help society. Mark Zuckerberg, on the other hand, embraces all that is going on. AI is most powerful when deployed across the vast networks being built for Internets of Things in the manufacturing, transportation and logistics, retail, healthcare, government and other sectors. Is AI transforming IoT for the good or the bad? Do we need to worry about its potential destructive power? Or will we...
SYS-CON Events announced today that B2Cloud will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. B2Cloud specializes in IoT devices for preventive and predictive maintenance in any kind of equipment retrieving data like Energy consumption, working time, temperature, humidity, pressure, etc.
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Greg Gorman is the Director, IoT Developer Ecosystem, Watson IoT, will provide a short tutorial on Node-RED, a Node.js-based programming tool for wiring together hardware devices, APIs and online services in new and interesting ways. It provides a browser-based editor that makes it easy to wire together flows using a wide range of nodes in the palette that can be deployed to its runtime in a single-click. There is a large library of contributed nodes that help so...
What is the best strategy for selecting the right offshore company for your business? In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Alan Winters, U.S. Head of Business Development at MobiDev, will discuss the things to look for - positive and negative - in evaluating your options. He will also discuss how to maximize productivity with your offshore developers. Before you start your search, clearly understand your business needs and how that impacts software choices.
SYS-CON Events announced today that NetApp has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. NetApp is the data authority for hybrid cloud. NetApp provides a full range of hybrid cloud data services that simplify management of applications and data across cloud and on-premises environments to accelerate digital transformation. Together with their partners, NetApp em...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SIGMA Corporation will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. uLaser flow inspection device from the Japanese top share to Global Standard! Then, make the best use of data to flip to next page. For more information, visit http://www.sigma-k.co.jp/en/.
Agile has finally jumped the technology shark, expanding outside the software world. Enterprises are now increasingly adopting Agile practices across their organizations in order to successfully navigate the disruptive waters that threaten to drown them. In our quest for establishing change as a core competency in our organizations, this business-centric notion of Agile is an essential component of Agile Digital Transformation. In the years since the publication of the Agile Manifesto, the conn...
There is huge complexity in implementing a successful digital business that requires efficient on-premise and cloud back-end infrastructure, IT and Internet of Things (IoT) data, analytics, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Digital Applications. In the data center alone, there are physical and virtual infrastructures, multiple operating systems, multiple applications and new and emerging business and technological paradigms such as cloud computing and XaaS. And then there are pe...
Real IoT production deployments running at scale are collecting sensor data from hundreds / thousands / millions of devices. The goal is to take business-critical actions on the real-time data and find insights from stored datasets. In his session at @ThingsExpo, John Walicki, Watson IoT Developer Advocate at IBM Cloud, will provide a fast-paced developer journey that follows the IoT sensor data from generation, to edge gateway, to edge analytics, to encryption, to the IBM Bluemix cloud, to Wa...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MIRAI Inc. will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MIRAI Inc. are IT consultants from the public sector whose mission is to solve social issues by technology and innovation and to create a meaningful future for people.
While some developers care passionately about how data centers and clouds are architected, for most, it is only the end result that matters. To the majority of companies, technology exists to solve a business problem, and only delivers value when it is solving that problem. 2017 brings the mainstream adoption of containers for production workloads. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ben McCormack, VP of Operations at Evernote, will discuss how data centers of the future will be managed, how th...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Keisoku Research Consultant Co. will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Keisoku Research Consultant, Co. offers research and consulting in a wide range of civil engineering-related fields from information construction to preservation of cultural properties. For more information, vi...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Fusic will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Fusic Co. provides mocks as virtual IoT devices. You can customize mocks, and get any amount of data at any time in your test. For more information, visit https://fusic.co.jp/english/.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Enroute Lab will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Enroute Lab is an industrial design, research and development company of unmanned robotic vehicle system. For more information, please visit http://elab.co.jp/.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Mobile Create USA will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Mobile Create USA Inc. is an MVNO-based business model that uses portable communication devices and cellular-based infrastructure in the development, sales, operation and mobile communications systems incorporating GPS capabi...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Interface Corporation will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Interface Corporation is a company developing, manufacturing and marketing high quality and wide variety of industrial computers and interface modules such as PCIs and PCI express. For more information, visit http://www.i...