“These days, warfare is conducted on land, by sea, in the air, across space, and now in the fifth battleground: cyberspace,” says cybersecurity expert Tarah Wheeler in her feature for Foreign Policy. “Yet so far, the U.S. government has fumbled on cybersecurity, outsourcing much of that area of conflict to the private sector … leaving the country exposed to foreign attack.”
With cyberattacks, it’s typically civilians who bear the brunt: “almost all cybersecurity experts and the FBI believe that the Sony Pictures hack originated in North Korea. A hostile country hit a U.S. civilian target with the intention of destabilizing a major corporation, and it succeeded … in the near future, attacks like the Sony hack will not be exceptional. There are countless vulnerabilities that could result in mass causalities, and there no agreed norms or rules to define or punish such crimes.” Unless armed force has been brought to bear within the borders of a country, no internationally recognized act of aggression has occurred, which means Russia’s various election hacks don’t count either.
This, says Wheeler, is why we need digital Geneva Conventions, “deep, well-enforced rules surrounding the conduct of war in cyberspace … without a global consensus on what constitutes cyberwar, the world will be left in an anarchic state governed by contradictory laws and norms and vulnerable to the possibility of a devastating war launched by a few anonymous keystrokes.”
Read Tarah Wheeler’s sobering Foreign Policy feature now.