Right now there is a hell of a great deal of FUD stating that the US has instigated cyber-war using “Flame” and with the release of information on op. Olympic Games.
What we first need to step back and see is that:
CYBERESPIONAGE IS NOT CYBERWAR!
More, spying is not and has never been war. Yes, there are uses for intelligence in the theatre of war, but this does not make the act warfare. There are cooks and mechanics deployed in warfare as well, but we would be seen as fools to state that the deployment of a cook is an act of war.
Yes, I have a level of bias. I have been engaged and still work with groups in the Australian and US governments. At the end of the day however, this also does nothing to change the fact that spying is not war.
First, we should note that we all spy on everyone. It is well known and documented that the UK and USA each spy on one another. There are GCHQ agents for the CIA and CIA agents for the CGHQ. Nothing new. In fact, we all do. This is the nature of nations. In many cases, we have "covert human intelligence sources" deployed more widely in “friendly” nations than in enemies. There are reasons for this, first, it is simpler and less risky. Next, it is economically more feasible.
Industrial espionage also forms the backbone of spying in many nations. We see this everywhere and should not be surprised. It is nothing new. It has been a fact of state to state interactions for millennia. Sun Tzu talks of espionage.
More critically, electronic operations are effective. They also collect more information than a pure HumInt (Human Intelligence) operation.
In operations against terrorist groups (such as AQIM), an officer can gather far more intel than any agent could provide and the information is less likely to be tainted.
It can be estimated that the number of reported cases represents less than 5 to 10 percent of the known industrial espionage events. When we take all events, the figures are lower.
To the point…
Cyberwar is an attack. It is not a simple act of espionage or even a simple targeted operation designed to safely remove a particular installation with minor damage to personal. A REAL cyber war can have dire consequences (in contradiction to what many still believe).
Espionage is both intelligence gathering as well as small covert operations. They are not the same thing. When we see a Cyber war, we will; know the difference. So far, we have not seen cyber war on any scale.
The raison d'être of espionage is not that of armed conflict.
Most important, espionage is not and has not been a reason for armed conflict. In the laws of war, criminal actions are not an act of war, nor is espionage.
Cyber attacks and cyber exploitations are the two forms of hostile
actions that may be taken against a computer system or network (Herbert, 2010 ).
Cyber exploitation is a clandestine event. It differs for this reason from a cyber attack.
When is it legal for a nation to use force against another nation?
Or… Jus Ad Bellum and Jus In Bello.
Articles 2(4), 39, 41, 42, and 51 of the UN Charter provisions most applicable to jus ad bellum cover the acts against Iran.
Even reconnaissance in preparation for later conflict is not an act of war. Thus it follows that reconnaissance and espionage events are not acts of cyber war.
More, when we see acts taken against AQ, AQIM, FARC and others, we are seeing nations taking actions against terror groups and not states. Actions against illegal groups is never war by definition.
We should also see that the damage of kinetic armed conflict is far greater and economically more destructive for all sides, including the “victor”. At the end of the day, it is better to maintain good intelligence networks than to maintain an ostrich effect and away an end we cannot forecast without the knowledge gained though these actions.
So, these points stated, I have to again state:
CYBERESPIONAGE IS NOT CYBERWAR!
Herbert S. Lin, (2010).Offensive Cyber Operations and the Use of Force, 4 J. NAT’L SECURITY L. & POL’Y 63, 63