What exactly constitutes a cyber warfare operation?

Cyber terrorism or cyber crimes?

Many authors use interchangeably the terms cyber terrorism and cyber crimes. This paper will not deal with terrorism, nor with ‘conventional’ cyber crimes. The latter are effectuated against individuals and property, ranging from financial crimes to paedophilia perpetrated by individuals.1

Or maybe information operations?

Others ‘loosen’ the term so that it can fit the larger gamut of information operations, which can be perpetrated in peacetime, but neither this is the object of this paper. The current assessment will primarily deal with state-sponsored attacks or operations manifested in the virtual locus of cyberspace that can potentially result in the loss of human lives and/or destruction of critical infrastructure.

Legal definition of Cyber Warfare Operations

How can ‘cyber warfare operations’ be defined? The first problem arises in attempting to circumscribe a functional definition given not only the absence of a consensus among international law scholars but also due to the fact that legal literature has so far used interchangeably terms as ‘cyber force’, ‘cyber attack’, ‘information warfare’.2

Adkins presents ‘a new taxonomy of cyber terms’, using the following, rather Clausewitz-‘scented’ definition for cyber warfare.

‘Any act intended to compel an opponent to fulfill our national will, executed against the software controlling processes within an opponent’s system’.3

Wingfield asserts that a Computer Network Attack (CNA)—also referred to as “cyber war”—is a type of Information Warfare (IW), which is itself a subset of Information Operations (IO). Others, such as Dahl, prefer to use the looser term ‘network-centric warfare’.

Shackelford declares that

‘information warfare shall refer to the employment of computers and related technology to attack computer networks linked to a nation’s civilian, military and/or government information-based resources’.

His proposed definition can be rather unsatisfactory, given that he includes cyber terrorism and cyber espionage as well.

1 For a classification of cyber crimes see the Background Paper for the workshop on crimes related to the computer network, Tenth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Vienna, UNGA A/CONF.187/10, 3 February 2000, available at <http://www.uncjin.org/Documents/congr10/l10e.pdf >

2 J Barkham, ‘Information Warfare and International Law on the Use of Force; 34 N.Y.U. J. Int’l L. & Pol. 57’ (2001-2002) at 57. 

3 BN Adkins, Major USAF, The spectrum of cyber conflict. From hacking to information warfare. What is law enforcement’s role, AU/ACSC/003/2001-04, at 34.