Challenges in Applying the Law of Armed Conflict to Cyberwar

Department of Homeland Security
Department of Homeland Security

Posted on June 16, 2017 | Completed on June 16, 2017 | By: Richard “Rick” Aldrich

Given the United States-Russian bilateral recommendation from the 47th Munich Security Conference, what are some of the foreseen challenges in applying the law of armed conflict to cyberwar?

On June 17, 2010, a small antivirus company established in Belarus discovered the Stuxnet worm. Later research would reveal that an earlier variant of the worm existed at least a year earlier. Stuxnet reputedly caused the physical degradation of some 1,000 centrifuges at the Natanz facility in Iran, based on data of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) [1]. While the identity of the perpetrators is still unknown almost two years later, some have suggested nation-state involvement due to the sophistication of the malware. The heavily hardened Natanz facility was built to withstand “bunker buster” bomb attacks, but apparently not cyberattacks. The incident, involving a sophisticated cyber “weapon,” has created new impetus for examining the law of armed conflict in cyberspace.


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