Saturday, June 23, 2012

Ethics and Cyberspace

With the success of Stuxnet and now newer computer malware that are specifically designed with military targets in mind, it is time to start thinking seriously about ethical questions involving weapons that work in cyberspace. The US Air force has Cybercommand, Germany is now starting an offensive cyberwarefare unit, Russia has been alleged to employ cyberwarefare, and other nations like Israel, North Korea, the UK, and China have also been exploiting cyberspace for military purposes.

But what are the ethical issues involved? (Here are some practical issues.) I can think of a few off the top of my head. First are the traditional questions: How are civilians in enemy countries impacted by cyberwarefare and what responsibilities do countries have to only target military cyber infrastructure? Is this perhaps a kind of "warfare" where the discrimination standard breaks down? After all, chances are that few people will die as a direct consequence of a cyberattack on a country. So how to we weigh the double effect consequences?

Another question I was thinking about is how to deal with proliferation. There is little doubt that weapons proliferation has ethical repercussions. Cyber weapons can potentially be copied quickly and effectively and presumably with disastrous consequences. What ethical responsibilities to governments have to prevent this?

Also, is it really war, is it really a weapon, if individuals are not getting physically harmed? Is this the new kind of war people are talking about when they envision the future of war? Imagine immobilizing the enemy without harming anyone? Is it possible to win wars that way and if so, can this mean the end of war as we know it?

Finally, this all seems like an important step in moving war away from the nation state and putting non-state actors on the same level.

(H/T /.)

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