Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cyber Warfare*

Estonia a.k.a “eStonia” is widely known for being the most wired European nation.
E-government… Online elections and tax payment… e-banking…
Name any “e-”, eStonia has it.
Indeed, Estonia has become the epitome of a Modern Information Age society whose lifeblood is technology running in the veins of networked systems.

However, the very ubiquitous nature and openness of IT on which critical national infrastructure now relies is also the Achilles’ heel of the entire system.[1] The digital front is as vulnerable as it is wide and open. In 2007, Estonia tasted this bitter truth.

Online portals of Estonia’s leading banks crashed; all of the principal newspaper websites stopped working and circulation suffered; government communications were largely blacked out. In a few days, the assault caused widespread social unrest and rioting, leaving 150 people injured and one Russian dead. The suspect: Russia. The law applicable: the laws of war??

A few months ago, the Pentagon declared that these cyber attacks can constitute acts of war[2] - a war with no flags, no tanks, and no blood. Nothing but pure destruction.

Such pronouncement introduces the relevance of laws of war in unconventional warfare, particularly, fundamental assumptions in international law regarding when self-defense, use of force, and other legal recourse may be used against the attacking state. Yet, the international legal framework to deal with cyber attacks remains manifestly underdeveloped. Discussion has usually centered on cyber terrorism by private groups rather than state-sponsored cyber attacks. And so as war rages in its new battfield, legal scholars prepare legal tools in case of an “electronic Pearl Harbor.”

-Crisela Bernardino [entry #9]

*A cyberattack (also called a computer network attack and CNA) is malicious computer code or other deliberate act designed to alter, disrupt, deny, degrade, or destroy information resident in computers andcomputer networks, or the computers and networks themselves. (Source:

[1] Shackelford, Scott. From Nuclear War to Net War: Analogizing Cyber Attacks in International Law Berkeley Journal of International Law. Vol. 27. 2009.


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