Cyber War Will Not Take Place

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dan Dieterle



I had the absolute honor of receiving a copy of Dr. Thomas Rid’s article entitled, “Cyber War Will Not Take Place“.

This is, hands down, one of the best arguments I have seen that there has been no cyber war in the past, there currently is no cyber war going on today, and a cyber war will probably not take place in the future:

ABSTRACT: For almost two decades, experts and defense establishments the world over have been predicting that cyber war is coming. But is it? This article argues in three steps that cyber war has never happened in the past, that cyber war does not take place in the present, and that it is unlikely that cyber war will occur in the future. It first outlines what would constitute cyber war: a potentially lethal, instrumental, and political act of force conducted through malicious code.

The second part shows what cyber war is not, case-by-case. Not one single cyber offense on record constitutes an act of war on its own. The final part offers a more nuanced terminology to come to terms with cyber attacks. All politically motivated cyber attacks are merely sophisticated versions of three activities that are as old as warfare itself: sabotage, espionage, and subversion.

Dr. Rid masterfully covers each of the three forms of cyber attacks that we are facing today (sabotage, espionage, and subversion).

He looks at numerous cases of cyber attacks and goes into perfect depth (and detail), pulling them apart and analyzing them one by one.

Topics covered include:

  • The Siberian pipeline explosion in 1982
  • The attack on Estonia
  • The assault on Georgia
  • ‘Moonlight Maze’ cyber-espionage incident
  • Israel’s bombing raid on Syria
  • Stuxnet
  • “Anonymous” attacks on HBGary, and many more

Each case is dissected and compared to Carl von Clausewitz’s definition of what war really is:

“Clausewitz still offers the most concise concept of war. It has three main elements. Any aggressive or defensive action that aspires to be a stand-alone act of war, or may be interpreted as such, has to meet all three criteria.”

This article is an exceptional read and I highly recommend it.

Dr. Thomas Rid works on the political and military aspects of cyber security at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London.

He also is a non-resident fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations in the School for Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, in Washington, DC.

Thomas Rid (2011): Cyber War Will Not Take Place, Journal of Strategic Studies, DOI:10.1080/01402390.2011.608939 Link to article:

Cross-posted from Cyber Arms

Possibly Related Articles:
Defense Cyberwar Stuxnet Network Security Anonymous National Security HBGary Federal
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