Tristan Schmurr / Flickr A computer server room is the first line of attack, and defense, when it comes to cybersecurity.

The Coming Cyberpeace

The Normative Argument Against Cyberwarfare

The era of cyberconflict is upon us; at least, experts seem to accept that cyberattacks are the new normal. In fact, however, evidence suggests that cyberconflict is not as prevalent as many believe. Likewise, the severity of individual cyber events is not increasing, even if the frequency of overall attacks has risen. And an emerging norm against the use of severe state-based cybertactics contradicts fear-mongering news reports about a coming cyberapocalypse. The few isolated incidents of successful state-based cyberattacks do not a trend make. Rather, what we are seeing is cyberespionage and probes, not cyberwarfare. Meanwhile, the international consensus has stabilized around a number of limited acceptable uses of cybertechnology—one that prohibits any dangerous use of force.

Despite fears of a boom in cyberwarfare, there have been no major or dangerous hacks between countries. The closest any states have come to such events occurred when Russia attacked Georgian news outlets and websites in 2008; when Russian forces shut down banking, government, and news websites in Estonia in 2007; when Iran attacked the Saudi Arabian oil firm Saudi Aramco with the Shamoon virus in 2012; and when the United States attempted to sabotage Iran’s nuclear power systems from 2007 to 2011 through the Stuxnet worm. The attack on Sony from North Korea is just the latest overhyped cyberattack to date, as the corporate giant has recovered its lost revenues from the attack and its networks are arguably more resilient as a result. Even these are more probes into vulnerabilities than full attacks. Russia’s aggressions show that Moscow is willing to use cyberwarfare for disruption and propaganda, but not to inflict injuries or lasting infrastructural damage. The Shamoon incident allowed Iran to punish Saudi Arabia for its alliance with the United States as Tehran faced increased sanctions; the attack destroyed files on Saudi Aramco’s computer network but failed to do any lasting damage. The Stuxnet incident also failed to create any lasting damage, as Tehran put more centrifuges online to compensate for virus-based losses

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