Is there a just cyber war ?

Interview with Mariarosaria TADDEO

Researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute and Deputy Director of the Digital Ethics Lab, Universityof Oxford, United Kingdom.

War is governed by a set of rules and rights, even in a context as chaotic as a conflict armed. How far do the categories of the ethics of armed conflict apply to cyberwarfare? To what extent do can a cyber-conflict be considered an act of war?


Topical subject that the war, at least the war the United States and China with tariff offensives.Although less in the press, cyber war is not a new phenomenon not to be outdone. It is high time to start a dialogue to define a tangible and comprehensive framework to address these issues.This is at least the call of Mariarosaria Taddeo, a prolific expert on the ethics of cyber-conflicts at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII).

By introducing the topic of cyber-conflict and their particularities, this article aims to lay the foundations of the debate as well as the different levels of actors in the to intervene. The shadow zone that has persisted since a decade or so and the phantasmagoria drawn from the science fiction cannot go on any longer. It is becoming urgent to realise the damage that digital attacks are capable of and to define, with a common effort, a set of rules, rights and values. Ethical issues will not be easy to address, and, moreover, quickly, to establish a legal framework adequate to mitigate the risks without hindering the potential for technological development.

First of all, the nature of the attacks in cyberspace, starting with the term to be used. If the term cyber-war has the merit of to underline the seriousness of the phenomenon, it would be more accurate to talk about conflict. By definition, a war is a violent struggle between states, which begins with a declaration of war and is organised according to rules military.

Any attack, no matter how aggressive, cannot be carried out by the to be considered a war if it is not preceded by a declaration of intent nor followed by a invasion or reprisals. This is referred to as a conflict. Without the crucial element of a declaration of war, conflicts are nonetheless regulated at the international level by laws. In the long run, tensions can escalate to the point where they are to a declaration of war.

Emergence of a new phenomenon

In both cases, all the conventions that have been developed over thousands of years come together in the idea of that the bellicose attacks take place in a tangible reality: physical damage, visible destruction, palpable suffering. However, when it comes to the virtual, this legal frame work no longer seems appropriate. Where to determine the limit of the intolerable, comparable to an invasion territoriality in a computer system? How identify the enemy of a cyber attack in order to retaliate?

And to what extent? Which targets are to be spared ? Cyber-conflicts can be very violent, very aggressive, and frighteningly effective. A damage virtual can cause real suffering for society as a whole. That is why the principles of proportionality, necessity, discrimination as well as the moral values derived from the doctrine of just war are to be transposed into the cyberspace. Establishing an ethical framework for cyberspace conflicts requires in-depth reflection. Taddeo andAs his colleagues often remind us, transposition by analogy is not enough. It is necessary to translate, in its context, the ethical justifications (under what ethical conditions to lead a conflict)and the form (which line of conduct) of this new phenomenon. This requires an in-depth understanding of technologies, their particularities and the dynamics which govern them. Like the theories of the kinetic world, the ultimate goal is to guarantee a coexistence of the two worlds, peaceful.

The war effort

Moreover, ethical justifications allow to legitimise violence in order to defend oneself and preserve order. In a way, they make it possible to obtain the public support. In virtual space, it is difficult to awaken a sense of fraternity and collaboration in the collective war effort. The effects of the destruction are not visible to the naked eye either, although they can be that our increased dependence on digital infrastructures is making us more and more exposed. The case of Estoniais revealing in this respect. The 2007 denial-of-service cyber-attacks are often referred to as the first cyber-war between Estonia and Russia (according to the previous definition, we continue tobelieve that conflict would be the end adequate). The population, informed in full transparency by its government, participated on the basis of volunteering for education and "hat-trick" piracywhite". The relationship of citizens to digital, as well as the relationship of trust towards their government, are permanently transformed.

Transparency is not, however, a prerequisite in the case of a cyber attack. We have to find a middle ground. Of a on the other hand, confessing to being a victim could cause panic, harm the credibility of the system set up and tainting the confidence in the government responsible for protecting its population. On the other hand, concealing an attack makes it possible to conceal one's failures from other enemies contain the situation, and even respond to it without having to account for it.

A regulation full of nuances

Another advantage is that cyber-attacks are not going to go away and the phenomenon is left under-regulated is the possibility for certain government actors to direct, through virtual actions, their international relations behind the scenes for more than 15 years. The same goes for the cyber-espionage activities for security purposes national. Different means, at different levels, canonly be done on the basis of nuanced regulations.

By its very nature, any computer system is vulnerable. No one can guarantee infallible security.The omnipresence of these systems, in particular for key national infrastructures, increases our vulnerability to cyber-assaults. At present, this kind of virtual damage could no longer hide. The repercussions would be too great to that no one knows about it. The cyber-victim state will need laws to prosecute and retaliate. Should we wait for this threat to materialise to legislate? No, let's hope that no crisis is not necessary. The first real attempt the United Nations to regulate the behaviour of States has not never succeeded. We cannot postpone the debate given the seriousness of the issues at stake. The States are certainly beginning, individually, to define their means of cyber defence. On a larger scale Member States of the UN, the EU and NATO, as well as each nation, should intensify the pressure to reach an ethical convention.

It is important to underline the extent to which this international level is crucial. Let us first define the values that matter, the principles we want to adhere and understand how to regulate this phenomenon never seen before. Let's set up a space of trust to enable a dialogue of high level, constant dialogue and transparency between the actors involved or excluded from the dialogue.

Horizontality and verticality of a constellation of actors

Through the ages, it has taken the synergy of philosophers, theologians, ethicists, military leaders, decision-makers and lawyers of all kinds horizon for developing a set of conventions and agreements to regulate the act of war. This horizontal synergy must today integrate the private sector expertise in the high level dialogue level. Engineers have superior expertise in information systems security: they are able to conceive, penetrate or defend them. Their skills are essential to help us to understand the technologies, but - just like traditional armaments - it would bein appropriate to delegate to the private sector the burden of their legislation.

The highest authorities should take the lead in regulatory milestones. Time is of the essence to regulate the behaviour of states and hold them accountable for their conduct, such as this would be the case in the kinetic world. By acting as up to now in the shadow of the canvas, theStates incite a cyber-armament race, or even a cyber-weapons race an escalation of cyber aggression leading to conflict armed. In particular, an authority must be designated - by exampleNATO or the UN - which would take on the role of the and enforcement of the law sanctions. It must be politically costly for States to derogate from the laws of cyberspace.

Incentives include vulnerability disclosure. A vulnerability in a computer system is a failure. A once identified, this breach can be corrected. Taddeo compares it to an open window in a house.Maybe no one will notice it to get in penetrate. Vulnerability disclosure would be like a neighbour who warns of the risk of infringement. Do not prevention should be passive of complicity in cyberspace. To illustrate such a case, let us quote the WannaCry attack that made use of a vulnerability in the Microsoft system, a vulnerability that the NSA had known about it for a long time without disclosing it in order to use it for his own espionage purposes. In the future, this behaviour should be punishable, safety States as well as individuals being endangered.

The legal framework under the authority of an authority does not serve the aim is not only to punish, but also to create an area of trust and mutual assistance between allied countries.

NATO, in collaboration with private expertise, is already organising exercises to simulate cyberattacks. Participation in cyber-jousts is not mandatory, but imagine the benefits if it were mandatory between allies? In addition to those not specific to the world virtual (strengthening alliances, consolidating defences, improve strategies, share technical expertise, etc.), these training sessions would make it possible to testing and perfecting AI-based cyber weapons thanks to the influx of data. The more artificial intelligence is used, the better it performs.

The collective effort does not stop at the decision-making level. Vertical discussion for educational purposes must take place with the population at the level of lower. In any security system, men are often the weakest link in the chain. The dissemination of a massive cyber-attack likeWannaCry rested on the credulity of the lay public.

Education vs. Entertainment

That said, Taddeo warns that science fiction cannot be mistaken for education. It is a popular entertainment. In addition to being potentially anxiety-provoking, science fiction is problematic if it distracts from the current debate. Fiction feeds the debate on singularity, the idea of a more intelligent, more powerful humanoid machine and more diabolical than man, who came almost by magic to dominate or destroy us. A scientifically founded debate acknowledges that the contrary to a computer performing the actions without any form of human intelligence, i.e. without a cognitive process with intuition, reflection and emotion. In this sense, the debate questions the use of technologies rather than their nature. This does not prevent this intelligence artificial to be autonomous in the actions to be carried out accomplish: select a target, launch a virtual attack in the system, retaliate, etc. This form of performative intelligence will only consider not the consequence of his actions. And for the time being, Neither do we. This is where the problem of legislation: the machine does not wage war, it is a tool in the hands of humans who condone the conflict. They must be held responsible for the machines deployed, and be punished if applicable.

AI, a tool and opportunities

Let's look for a moment at competences cyber-weapons, particularly those based on the on artificial intelligence. Cyber attacks require relatively few resources to global in scope, they are anonymous and decentralised, and they are deployed in a system interconnected and porous by nature. A defence infallible being technically impossible, sophistication and time always make it possible to always overcoming barriers, the best strategy.

One possible approach is active cyber defence. This is where artificial intelligence comes in as a tool for active defence. By monitoring activities, detecting recurring signatures, by tracking anonymous attacks, algorithms can automatically determine the potential targets, or even to attack them. We aren't nonly at the beginning of these AI capabilities, but it is clear that without a legislative framework, these tools will make the internet a constant battleground.

AI is not the enemy

The militarisation of artificial intelligence as well as the potential for increased monitoring of behaviour on the web are two threats to the near future of technological development, such as Taddeo acknowledges this. But the message that he has the more to the heart, is to remind people that they need to concentrate not on the risks, but on the potential of new technologies.She repeats, AI is not the enemy. Firstly, because it cannot be directed without a human will behind it. Second, because a policy framework allows for the mitigating risks. Fear will not allow us to take ethical decisions or solve problems mass surveillance.

However, fear may provoke a reaction of rejection from the population. It would be a monumental mistake to allow the development of artificial intelligence to slow down and wither. Governments and international institutions should not, for fear of eroding confidence in the economy and political institutions, impose a brake on the digitisation process. To avoid militarisation of cyberspace, let us rather create an ethical framework that allows for the flourishing development of technologies in our company.

Strength in numbers

As Chinese wisdom has it, it is in the [potential] danger that the opportunities lie. Speaking ofChina, Mariarosaria Taddeo has understood that the importance of seeing the good and making the best of AI. Evidence of this is that his government has focused on a national strategic system and a capacity for military-civil integration as part of its "Next Generation Development Plan" of artificial intelligence" by 2030. Military use is not seen as independent of its civilian use. The technology is very malleable. This approach allows costs to be shared and the benefits of the partnerships with the private sector. It should be remembered that GPS, drones, and even the internet are progresses technology due to military projects. Their applications in other contexts greatly benefit economic development and the sustainable improvement of our quality of life.

"Peace", in the military sense of the term, is synonymous with latent war, said the American philosopher William James. Cyber-peace, too, is not exempt preparation, attacks and counterattacks. The doctrine of just war must be translated into the age of digital, but the background remains unchanged: at the time, the as it does today, it helps to legitimise defence and measures to maintain peace and to create a space for individual development, and prosperous collective.

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