Cyber space offers new target opportunities for warfighters. The fighting has already begun. In 2007, what was believed to be state-sponsored Russian hackers disrupted networks in Estonia with denial-of-service attacks against the Estonian parliament, national banks, government ministries, and media outlets during a political dispute.
In 2010, Iran accused the United States and Israel of unleashing the Stuxnet worm against Iranian nuclear installations.
Early in 2013, the U.S. government said it believes the Chinese government is behind hacking campaigns against U.S. companies and government agencies.
New (Cyber) Rules
One international expert believes before such cyber-attacks escalate into activities that destroy innocent lives we should establish rules for cyber warfare, just as there are agreements to abolish the use of chemical weapons in conventional war.
“We should define acceptable targets, and we could even place limits on cyber weapons, just as we did on chemical ones nearly a century ago,” said Karl Rauscher, chief technology officer and distinguished fellow at the EastWest Institute. IEEE Spectrum posted here for cyber war rules in November.
Rauscher said cyber war rules are important because, just as the Geneva Convention limits war-related activities in the physical world, new cyberwar rules can have a profound impact on reducing unnecessary pain and suffering. Cyber war agreements could, for instance, designate civilian infrastructures like hospitals and electronic medical records as off-limits to cyber attack.
Geneva and Hague
“The core issue is that purely humanitarian interests should be off limits to conflict,” he said.
One rule Rauscher proposed as co-author of a 2011 Russia-U.S. bilateral report (“Rendering the Geneva and Hague Conventions in Cyberspace”) is having a mark in cyberspace similar to that of the Red Cross in the physical world. Another proposed rule is to ban cyber weapons that do not discriminate in target selection.
“The rules for cyber conflict that I advocate are about preserving the existing principles of the Geneva and Hague conventions of war, by carrying them forward into cyber space,” Rauscher said. “Given the pervasive connectivity and integration of the physical world with cyber space, I expect that if we do not make this transition, these precious agreements that civilization has fought so hard for will be lost.”