Is A Cyber Attack Truly An Act Of War?

Some people think that there is a coming apocalypse that is about to happen online. They think that the next major war is not going to happen with soldiers in the field but with people behind their keyboards. Instead of soldiers marching across the bloody battlefields we will have hackers sitting at comfortable chairs pushing buttons, starting the attack. While this scenario may come true, and hacker groups such as LulzSec and Anonymous may leave you thinking the time is nigh, we are still a long way from that being a reality. For right now, wars are still going to be fought the old fashioned way with technology being used more and more in the battle but not yet the focal point.

Is A Cyber Attack Truly An Act Of War?

But even though we might not see this type of keyboard battlefield until many years into the future, there are some politicians who are alarmed right now. They do not have to see the actual fighting, all they have to do is go by the feeling that it might happen, and if there is a possibility that we could be in a serious cyber war someday in the future then we should be prepared for it now. The thought is not entirely crazy but we must be careful as to how far we take this line of thinking. We can easily let our imaginations get the better of us and imagine a doomsday scenario when there is none.

Cyber crime between nations probably does occur though, despite the fact that it isn’t reported in the media. I have, for instance,  seen plenty of discussion about issues such as cyber espionage but the evidence of even this type of activity is, perhaps, somewhat anecdotal at best – after all, if one nation steals information from another then they are not going to brag about it. Likewise the state that has been infiltrated will not want to publicise the fact that their cyber defences have been breached.

On the other hand, however, malware may well have been used in covert military operations – back in 2009 it was reported that Mossad may have used a Trojan horse on a Syrian official’s laptop in order to facilitate an air attack on a partly constructed nuclear facility. And in 2010 Mahmoud-al-Mabhouh was assassinated in Dubai after his computer was infiltrated with a Trojan, also allegedly planted by Mossad.

So whilst a full blown cyber war doesn’t appear to be imminent, I think it would be rather naive to believe that the more powerful nations of the world don’t have an interest in using malicious code and hackers to further their own international agendas.

Such a thought leads us to an interesting question: if a country is subjected to a cyber attack then does that mean that they should declare war on the attacking nation?

That is a question that is being asked by several countries now. If someone was to hack into your systems and took out vital national information do you have the right to be able to throw a bomb right back at them? And when I say bomb, I am not talking figuratively, I mean an actual bomb. Is the price of information worth the lives of innocent civilians who get caught in the crossfire? We have not had this happen yet but it could happen soon if some of the politicians that are out there get their way. A hacker breaching the line of defence could be classified as a terrorist and sentenced to life in prison or even death. While this seems like it is very unlikely now, there are some politicians who truly believe in this. They feel that if you are a national threat then you should pay highly for it. And they feel like most hackers who are not working for them are a threat to national security.

Of course the chances of this happening are very unlikely but not impossible. When we are talking about cyber crime it is very important that we do not lose our grip on reality. While keeping our cyber defences at the ready is very important, right now it should not be something that we go to war for. This is especially true when most hacks could be prevented by proper security measures. In this case, the old saying really is true – an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of explosives cure.

About Lee Munson

Lee's non-technical background allows him to write about internet security in a clear way that is understandable to both IT professionals and people just like you who need simple answers to your security questions.


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  2. […] for the sake of their nation’s security and for the purpose of being able to strike first on a cyber war field. Each of these countries are trying to find the best hackers in their land to come work for the […]

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