Cyber Warfare: An Exploratory Case Study


The following review presents some of the solutions of cyber warfare. Cyber warfare involves attacking computer systems of another country. The practice has become prevalent in the recent years and there exist indicating it will continue to rise. Possible solutions include developing effective international standards and ensuring each nation has strict regulations regarding the use of the cyber space.


The 20th century saw significant changes in almost every aspect of the society of mankind. It was during this period that the world witnessed the two World Wars.  After the two wars ended, civil conflicts persisted. As the century progressed to its end, global wars began assuming new tactics different from direct combat. With the eruption of Cold War, there were shifts toward passive forms of attack. Nations began engaging in information and psychological battles. These two forms involved gathering information and manipulating it for use against a target enemy. The era was also a period of rapid technological advancements. These technologies would further shape the tactics that both offenders and defenders used in times of war. One such technology that revolutionized war was the Internet. The use of the Worldwide Web makes it possible to disseminate information to a broad audience within a short period of time. In the recent decades, the use of the Internet has resulted into a new strategy of conducting local and international wars. Cyber warfare has become a common place phenomenon. Developing internationally agreed standards will be a possible solution to the problem. Moreover, ensuring that each government has effective regulations on the use of the cyberspace may also be effective in combating cyber warfare.

There exist varied definitions of cyberspace and related terms. However, many definitions agree that of cyber warfare encompasses any activity by a nation, state agent, or an international organization that attacks or attempts to undermine the computer networks of a target country. This form of conflict can take different forms including hacking, espionage, or denial of service. Some of the countries that have had long history of Web-based conflicts are the United States, Russia, China, South Korea, India, Germany, Sweden, and others. At present, Cyber warfare presents one of the major threats to the world security. It is critical that policy-makers develop appropriate schemes to avoid witnessing severe consequences. Implementing possible solutions to the problem is the subject of this paper.

Theoretical Background and Review of Literature

Recent developments in the global scene have highlighted that need to implement strict security measures regarding the use of the Internet. Computer and information systems of almost all governments, private organizations, or individual accounts are at risk. For example, in 2013, Yahoo experienced the wrath of cyber terrorism when attackers hacked hundreds of millions of its accounts (Goel and Perlroth). In the political setting, the United States has raised several claims of attacks by hackers working for the government of Russia. Major targets of these assaults include government websites, networks of private organizations such as banks, and emails of prominent officials. In a more recent case, investigations by FBI and other intelligence units suggest a possibility that Russian cyber attackers influenced the 2016 American presidential elections. Russia has denied the claims (Entous and Miller). This is not the first time that the Russian government has dismissed such claims. Such large-sale attacks demonstrate the reality of the threats posed by cyber warriors

A major problem facing international cyberspace security is state accountability. It may be difficult to establish whether a particular government should be liable for a specific crime. A good example is the Estonia cyberattacks. On April 27, 2007, following a disagreement between Russia and Estonia, the former experienced series of denial of service on its infrastructure. The targets of these attacks included financial institutions, newsrooms, government ministries, and private organizations. The attack was one of the most sophisticated crime in the history of cyberspace warfare. Estonia accused Russia of the assaults. In 2008, Estonian legal systems prosecuted a Russian student successfully. However, the Russian government denied any involvement and insisted that the perpetrators acted independently (BBC News). The Estonia case demonstrates why it may be difficult to hold a state responsible for any crime in the cyberspace.  No solid evidence links the Russian government to the crimes.

The concept of cyber warfare has been a center of interest for many scholars and security experts. Accordingly, several literature regarding the definitions, motivations, and complications that surround cyberwarfare. Despite the wide coverage, policy-makers are yet to find permanent solution to the situation. A major issues surrounding the prevention of cyber warfare is the ambiguity in definitions. Currently, no consensus exists on what constitutes a cybercrime. The existing definitions are sometimes identical while sometimes they are different. Moreover, there are conflicting views regarding the use of computer in committing criminal acts. A computer can be a subject, instrument, or an object of crime. Experts disagree on when and how to classify a computer under the three categories. Simon argues that such ambiguities in definitions present significant obstacles to combating cyber warfare (Simon 297-299). As long as these differences exist, the dream of freeing the world of Web-based conflicts will elude the society.

Solutions to the Problem: An International Approach

The evolution of cyberwarfare is shaping the military sector in several ways. One trend that has gained prevalence is the implementation of security structures such as the use of firewalls and data encryption techniques. Such measures aim at increasing the protection of a country from the negative effects of cyberattacks. In addition to security structures, many militaries are currently designing special units that are trained to combat cyber-related crimes. Defending attacks within the cyberspace is a primary priority for many governments and their military units. For example, in the United States, the Twenty-fourth Air Force and the Fleet Cyber Command are responsible for defending defense networks for the Air Force and the U.S. Navy respectively. Similar units exist in other countries such as the United Kingdom (Cyber Security Operations) and France (Security Agency). Despite these improvements, the government, the military, private sectors, and individuals still have to cope with the threat that cyber warriors present to them.

Several factors may make it difficult for state agencies to contain cyberspace conflicts.  One is the difficulty in establishing accountability. The tendency of governments to use individual persons as their agents of crime has been a common trend regarding Web-based conflicts. Many states rely on third party agents to develop weapons of cyberwar and execute the attacks (Simion 301). Such an approach offers the offenders several advantages. It makes it possible for a state to deny responsibility. However, it presents some disadvantages. State sponsors may have little control over the activities of their agents (the principle of principle agent). The use of state-sponsored individuals presents a significant challenge towards combating cyber-attacks. It makes it difficult to attribute an attack to a particular state.

Most actors in cyber wars are individuals who may or may not be acting independent of government influences. Entry into the cyberspace incurs little costs. Therefore, it is easy for anyone to access and master the use of its tools. Accordingly, any civilian can mount or participate in an attack on the agencies of a given state. This situation presents serious complications. Unlike conventional warfare, it is not easy to determine whether or not a cyberspace attack by a citizen of a particular government is state-sponsored. The absence of clear international legal status of such persons complicates the situation further. It may not be possible to prosecute such criminals successfully. Most governments are aware of such limitations and have been exploiting them to mount severe assaults on other states.

An important step to providing a solution to cyber warfare is establishing the motivating factors behind the act. Web-based assaults are highly distributed and can be hidden from the public’s attention for an extended period. Such widespread makes it hard to establish the reasons for attacks. One factor that may contribute cyber warfare is the battle for political supremacy. For instance, even though Russia denied responsibility, many experts believe that Russia attacked Georgia on political grounds (Hollis). Even though other elements of the society like civil movements may contribute to cybercrime, political motivations are the primary drivers. Just like in conventional warfare, political tensions between different states are potential breeding grounds for cyber warfare. For example, the battle for military supremacy between Russia, China, and the United States have prompted these states to engage in cyberspace battles with each other.

Cyberspace, cyber warfare, and their associated problems are relatively new concepts. Consequently, relevant players are yet to develop internationally agreed-standards for solving conflicts. At present, different governments may use different measures to combat the problem. Nevertheless, any solution available today can only be limited to state levels. Efforts aimed at attaining solutions should achieve at least two goals. First, they should prevent governments and individuals from planning and carrying out attacks. Second, they should enhance the security of information networks. Due to conflict of interest between states, attaining these objectives may not be an easy task. However, the process is possible through appropriate commitments.

An effective approach to providing a solution would be to ensure that every government is capable of holding its citizens accountable for their conduct. Many countries have regulations concerning the use of the Web. Such policies are important in prosecuting offenders within such countries. However, in some states, such laws are non-existent. Persons from regions that do not have proper regulations can participate in any form of cyber offense without fear of meeting justice. Each government has the responsibility of protecting its citizens. Therefore, there have been diplomatic rows when a person is tried in a country that is different from that of their origin. Such disputes have made prosecution of international criminals difficult. It is important that all governments agree on common standards against which suspects are tried.

Another solution would be to develop international legal systems for prosecuting offenders. As noted above, most perpetrators are individuals who either have or lack state support. Many states and individuals have taken advantage of the absence or weak international prosecution procedures. Developing and implementing strong cross-border laws will be a significant step towards keeping the situation under control. There is a need for governments to establish an independent organization or body that will monitor all the states to ensure compliance with the rules. However, such global standards may not come easily. Most governments are not willing to compromise their interests or priorities. Hence, it may take years before the formulation of international standards. Still, it is a possible. One problem facing policy makers is that of ambiguity in definitions. There exists a need for relevant authorities to develop definitions that apply to every land across international boundaries.

Presently, no major conflict between powerful nations resulting from the use of cyberspace. However, the absence of such conflicts at present do not rule out the possibility major conflicts in the future. Moreover, it is possible to conceal acts of cybercrimes for extended periods before they can come to the attention of the target. Many experts concur that the cyberspace will be a key player in future wars. Currently, it may not be easy to speculate on ways through which the Internet will shape world conflicts. There is a likelihood that cybercrimes will continue to rise in scale and frequency. Most of the world’s top economies such as the United States, Germany, and Japan operate on internet-enabled infrastructure. Such infrastructure enable them to have global connections. Growing instances of cyberspace attacks will cripple the operations of critical systems of such countries. The economy of these states and that of the entire world is likely to suffer drastic consequences.


The invention of the Internet technology has made it possible for nations to embrace cyber warfare as a method of attacking their targets. In addition to technological developments, political and military tensions between the world’s major powers such Russia has contributed to the adoption of cyberspace conflict as a new method of hitting the enemy. Cyber warfare presents one of the greatest threats to humanity. Due to the diverse nature of the Internet, finding permanent solutions to the problem is not easy. Possible solutions include implementing effective international regulations, ensuring that each country has strict regulations regarding the use of the cyberspace. Such approaches will help in addressing the existing loopholes in the fight against cybercrimes.

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