A battle rages over the definition of war -- war in cyberspace, that is.
A definition matters because the stakes are already enormous in this "new geography of warfare."
Everyone agrees The First Great Cyber-War (a decisive struggle over the Internet and within the Internet) has not been fought -- yet. Cyber-skirmishing, however, is frequent and fierce, a second-by-second form of digital probing and parrying that is cyberspace's combat equivalent.
Computers store and share vast quantities of data -- economic, military, intelligence, communications and politically sensitive information are obvious targets for spies, thieves, vandals, competitors and enemies. Digital systems control key infrastructure, like electrical grids. Zap a central computer with digital viruses, and the grid is damaged until the viruses are identified and removed. Repairing generators and power lines after an aerial bomb attack is an analog. The viruses, however, don't leave high-explosive craters.
And there's the rub. Is a cyber-intrusion that disrupts and destroys an "armed attack," which under international law would permit armed retaliation? Technology and techniques have once again outpaced political adaptation, rendered military doctrine obsolete, and are decades ahead of formal law.
Strategists, lawyers and warriors are struggling with these complex, multidimensional issues. James Andrew Lewis, in an essay titled "The Cyber War Has Not Begun" (published in March by the Center for Strategic and International Studies), believes focusing on cyber-security (protecting digital systems) "is a good thing." However, Lewis argues, "We are not in a 'cyber war.' War is the use of military force to attack another nation and damage or destroy its capability and will to resist. Cyber war would involve an effort by another nation or a politically motivated group to use cyber attacks to attain political ends. No nation has launched a cyber attack or cyber war against the United States."
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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