Borderless cyber-space is no longer free of the bordered concerns of geopolitics. It is in fact, the newest battlefield for exercising international conflict. This was, at least, the conclusion of a panel of experts assembled to discuss cyber-warfare at the first-ever SC Congress Amsterdam.
Plenty of countries now have cyber-command units with offensive capability and cyber-attacks on government ministries and critical infrastructure have had a political flavour to them.
The Tallinn attacks of 2007 were just such an example. When the Estonian government decided to remove the Bronze Soldier of Tallinn, a deeply unpopular Soviet-era memorial, the country was relentlessly DDoSed by forces believed to be associated with the Russian state. This remains the enduring example of cyber-warfare.
Margarita Jaitner, a researcher at the Swedish National Defence College. disputes the terms cyber-warfare. In specific regard to Russian aggression, Jaitner mentioned that the term is perhaps better put as information war.
Russian non-military aggression of this kind works on several levels alongside cyber-assault. Propaganda, the use of social media, hacktivism and kinetic operations all play a part in this 'non-military' warfare.
This is, in fact, hybrid war, in which military actions hide behind a civilian veil.
That said, "a lot of this is semantics", said Don Eijndhoven, CEO of Argent, a cyber-warfare consulting firm.
But cyber-war is not like other kinds of warfare. While military networks operate separately from civilian ones, attacks considered under the heading cyber-warfare tend to target civilian networks, said Eijndhoven: "We are all involved in this whether we want to or not."
Eijndhoven mentioned that there has been some trepidation around the term 'cyber-warfare', justified by the fact that the term warfare might lead to a rhetorical escalation.
"We should stop fooling ourselves", said Eijndhoven, adding that we have all acknowledged how cyber-warfare could escalate into real life conflict.
Anouk Vos, president of the Women in Cyber Security Foundation, mentioned that for all the talk about cyber-war, she hasn't heard much about its opposite, cyber-peace: "We need a paradigm shift in this regard". Perhaps, as Vos mentioned, we should be working towards setting up an international court of arbitration within the cyber-realm.
(left to right) Don Eijndhoven, Margarita Jaitner and Anouk Vos.