A Tweet of the Israel Defense Forces last weekend is representative for the change in warfare in cyberspace (cyberwar) and the real world. The supposed digital attack by Hamas was followed by a physical counterattack. It is the first case in which a cyber attack led to a direct, military counter-reaction instead of a digital counter-attack or “hack back”.
First victim in cyberwar
The first military counterstrike against a digital attacker occurred in 2015 against an ISIL hacker by the USA. Among other things, the hacker recruited potential symphonists to carry out attacks in the West “lone-wolf” and published numerous data on US soldiers similar to the politician Doxing in Germany. This attack, however, was meticulously planned in advance and not embedded as a direct reaction in an active military conflict, as in the current case in the Middle East conflict.
What is cyberwar?
Cyberwar is, like all terms containing the word “Cyber“, an artificial word. War is quite clearly defined by von Clausewitz three core elements of war and all three of these classic aspects are difficult to fulfill by cyberwar:
- violence: “The war is therefore an act of violence to force the opponent to fulfill ones will,” Clausewitz writes. This element is fulfilled by the use of physical force in the form of an air strike. However, this act is not cyberwar, since it is in the classical sense an analogous military strike.
- Instrumental: War must always be instrumental, i.e. there must be means and ends. In the current case, the means is the use of armed force and the end is the destruction of the supposed operational centre of cyber attacks.
- Political: A political goal is pursued, mostly through the use of force or as von Clausewitz says: “War is a mere continuation of politics by other means”.
The exercise of power is the core element of war which permeates the three aspects. It is not easy or impossible to implement it digitally. The exercise of power in the currently discussed case of war has also not been carried out in digital space, but a classic act of war. However, in response to a digital attack, this is an aspect that is new and raises concerns.
Cyberwar in the Information Society
Especially shortly before elections, for example in India, fear of disinformation through information manipulation increases. One example of this is fake news and false statements on the Internet that are used to destabilize democracies and create insecurity among the population. One assumption is that targeted population groups are specifically selected in order to dissolve social cohesion. This means dissolving the will for the common good and focusing on the well-being of an individual or a majority. Fake news, disinformation and countermeasures will remain an issue for some time to come in view of upcoming elections and political terms of office. Even though cyberwar is not war by classical definition, digital attacks at the state level are becoming increasingly sophisticated and difficult to see through. In particular, the interplay of disinformation and the problem of attribution provide an undefined framework.