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A Cyber War … Really?

Time Magazine - Cyber War.jpgOn August 21st, 1995 Time Magazine’s cover story was on the concept of cyber war.  And here we are 17 years later throwing around the term as if it were some new concept. Before we all go off the deep-end on with war rhetoric, I wanted to discuss the difference between “war” and “act of war.”  Although the differences may seem subtle, they are nonetheless important to the discussion.


First let’s start with a little Latin lesson. Casus belli is a Latin expression meaning the justification for acts of war. Casus means "incident," "rupture" or indeed "case," while belli means bellic ("of war").  It is usually distinguished from casus foederis, where casus belli refers to offenses or threats directly against a nation, and casus foederis refers to offenses or threats to a fellow allied nation with which the justifying nation is engaged in a mutual defense treaty, such as NATO.  So simply stated what is occurring and what people commonly refer to as cyber warfare is in actuality acts of war.  No cyber war has ever been declared.


In 2010, Richard A. Clarke, a man in which I have great respect wrote a book called Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It.  In his book, Mr. Clarke points to a number of examples where various governments including the U.S. have used cyber tactics as part of an arsenal or payload to disrupt the command and control of an aggressor nation.  However, these were tactics and not a declaration of cyber war.  War is war.  No one declares land war, air war, ocean war, or even cyber war – we use every tactic feasible to inject as much harm to the aggressors with as little harm to civilians as possible.


In a May 2012 article What is the role of lawyers in cyberwarfare? by Stewart Baker he states “No one seriously denies that cyber war is coming. Russia may have pioneered cyber-attacks in its conflicts with Georgia and Estonia, but cyber weapons went mainstream when the developers of Stuxnet sabotaged Iran’s Natanz enrichment plant, proving that computer network attacks can be more effective than 500-pound bombs. In war, weapons that work get used again.”  The key point here is that cyber tactics are weapons, not war in of itself.


No one really knows what will happen and how big a role cyber weaponry will play, but no one can argue that it will play a role.


To see what HP is doing to protect against cyber-attacks check out HP Cybersecurity for Defense.


Do you think we’re at cyber war? Follow me on Twitter @SecureMartini for more security insights.

Nadhan | ‎10-09-2012 12:40 AM

Great post, Tari.  Given that we are constantly subject to cyber weaponry, it instills the perception that we are at cyber war.  Reinforces the need for the inception of the OODA loop (recurring cycle of observe-orient-decide-act) into the security hacker's....  This is especially true when combating security challenges in the public sector.


Connect with Nadhan on: Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Journey Blog.

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About the Author
Tari is a Distinguished Technologist with 30 years of IT and cyber security experience. He is dual board certified in information security/b...

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