Cyber defense war room 370.
(photo credit:Reuters and Marc Israel Sellem)
Judging from the slew of news over the past week or so, the field of cyber
warfare is fast becoming a dominant element in every developed country’s
In a span of just a few days there has been a flurry of
news items related to cyber warfare: the anti-virus firm Kaspersky discovered
that Iran’s nuclear program was struck again, this time by Flame, which
effectively turns every computer it infects into a spy; The New York Times
reported that the US and Israel were behind the Stuxnet worm, which also
attacked Iran’s nuclear program; NATO held its Fourth International Conference
on Cyber Conflict; and Israel hosted its own conference on cyber warfare at Tel
Indeed, there is good reason for the rising interest –
and deployment – of cyber warfare. After all, there are many appealing aspects
to cyber warfare.
Instead of wreaking mass destruction and snuffing out
human life, countries can instead attack virtual targets in cyberspace. An
aggressor state does not need to expose its own troops to the dangers of
conventional or unconventional warfare, thus avoiding casualties and the
difficulty Western societies have coping with these casualties. And since cyber
weapons can be deployed anonymously from a distance, the aggressor often does
not risk political fallout let alone absorbing a retaliatory
Indeed, cyber warfare seems so bloodless and “clean” that there
hardly appear to be any real ethical dilemmas with which to grapple.
War Theory, based on Judeo-Christian moral principles and Western moral
philosophy, is concerned with limiting human casualties and physical
When warfare is waged using a piece of code against some
intangible objects, without directly causing casualties or physical damage, the
anthropocentric principles of Just War Theory hardly seem to
Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to claim that cyber warfare
can be conducted without a consideration of its moral limits. For instance, if
it knocks out electricity and the refrigeration necessary to protect supplies,
even a modest cyber attack could lead to starvation and the suffering of
thousands of innocent.
Or if a cyber attack disables an air traffic
control tower, this could lead to plane crashes and deaths.
And even if
“only” intangible targets are wiped out, this could have far-reaching
Advanced economies – especially fields such as business and
property services, communications, finance and insurance – depend for their
functioning and growth on information-based, intangible assets. Luciano Floridi
of the University of Oxford has estimated that in highly developed countries as
much as 70 percent of GDP depends on intangible goods. An attack on these
intangibles could result in a major economic crisis with potential lethal
Therefore, it is absolutely imperative that the
international community draft an up to date moral code.
An important step
toward applying Just War Theory was taken by Patrick Lin, Fritz Allhoff and Neil
Rowe in an article titled, “Is It Possible to Wage a Just Cyberwar?” that
appeared on The Atlantic’s website this week.
We in Israel, basing
ourselves on traditional sources, should work toward a uniquely Jewish ethical
theory applicable to the 21st-century reality of cyber warfare. With the Jewish
people’s return to statehood, new realities have been created that demand a
reappraisal of ancient Jewish sources.
Modest headway has already been
made in few fields – including updating Jewish laws governing conventional and
unconventional warfare. But more needs to be done.
Defense Minister Ehud
Barak declared this week that Israel was seeking to be a global leader in cyber
warfare. In parallel to using Israeli hi-tech know-how to develop our cyber
warfare capabilities, we should strive to delve into our rich cultural
inheritance and make a contribution to the world in the field of military ethics
Relevant to your professional network? Please share on Linkedin