Monday, October 20, 2014

Cyber Warfare: The War Of Zeros And Ones

The Popular Science article, "The War Of Zeros And Ones" by Peter Singer explains an early example of cyber warfare before moving on to current government programs and exploring possible uses and implications of cyber warfare. In 2006, Israel discovered Syria's nuclear weapons program through the information collected from a Trojan horse they installed on a Syrian official's laptop. Israel's bombing of the nuclear facility was supported by a cyber-attack on Syria's military network which prevented Syria's air defense operators from detecting and responding to Israel's fighter jets. Because of the age of the field, and the wide variety of actors, goals, and methods used, the precise meaning of the terminology used for cyber warfare and cyber attacks remains poorly defined. The article cites the US Air Force definition of the goals of cyber operations: to "destroy, deny, degrade, disrupt, [and] deceive," while also defending against the enemy's like-minded use of cyberspace.

An important point made by the article, which was also made by others when analyzing the legal implications of cyber warfare, is that cyber weapons should be treated the same way as conventional weapons when used in war. However, the article is not written from a legal background and does not apply any consideration of the laws of war to the proposed uses of cyber warfare.

The author proposes "information warfare" attacks where "the objectives might be highly strategic, such as planting false orders that appear to come from top leaders, or more tactical insertions, like when the Israelis co-opted the Syrian air-defense network." In addition to the immediate consequences of such attacks, in the long term they could corrupt users' trust in electronic communication, slowing decision making and potentially leading to abandoning technology for critical communication. There are multiple legal issues with such attacks. While this type of attack would often be categorized as a ruse de guerre, care must be taken not to resort to perfidy, which would include planting false orders. Even if individual attacks would be considered legal, if they are part of a larger campaign aimed at destroying the enemy's trust and ability to operate they could be considered illegal under the laws of war.

Other proposed attacks targeting military systems, such as disabling the engine systems of an enemy's navy or taking control of an enemy's drones would generally be permissible under the laws of war. Robotic weapon systems such as the Predator and Reaper drones create new vulnerabilities whereby the drone's control system could be compromised, allowing an attacker to use the drone against its owners. Not limited to drones, these "digital battles of persuasion" for control of weapons systems could become a major part of modern warfare and an example of the effective combination of cyber and traditional attacks.

Although the author proposes the possibility of using a cyber attack to destroy a dam to flood enemy territory, such attacks are unlikely because they are explicitly forbidden in international law by Article 56 of Additional Protocol I. The final section of the article, titled "Cyberwar Is Civilian War," proposes a variety of attacks targeting the civilian infrastructure that supports military operations. Citing historical examples such as the bombing of civilians in WWII, the author makes the case that cyber warfare may take a similar course with the targeting of civilians. However, the treaties codifying customary international law for the protection of civilians were not yet written at the time of the cited examples, and the international policy climate is keener on the protection of civilians so attacks targeting civilians may be less likely. Unfortunately, the often covert nature of cyber attacks and the difficulty attributing them to particular states makes enforcement of policy much more difficult. With little to no international law addressing cyber warfare directly and with cyber warfare still in relatively early development, it is impossible to predict exactly what its impact will be.

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