Tracking Cyber Warriors

This morning’s Washington Post highlights the great work of the OpenNet Initiative in tracking the recent cyber war between Russia and Georgia. As we highlighted here earlier, DDoS attacks shut down or limited access to a number of Georgian government sites. In response to the Russian cyber attacks, Georgia also blocked access to Russian news sites within Georgia.

The debate on how to deal with these attacks and their actual importance is far from over. As Berkman’s Jonathan Zittrain says, “If a state brings down the Internet intentionally, another state could very well consider that a hostile act.” Although the Post article notes that the UN and other bodies are yet to figure out if a cyber attack constitutes an act of war.

The difference in the Russian-Georgian example, though, is that these were the first online battles to be matched by military confrontation in the real world. However, as Ethan Zuckerman and Jose Nazario have noted, these recent attacks may not necessarily rise to the level of a full on ‘cyber war;’ language that grabs headlines and allows tech journalists to play war reporter. And as Jose Nazario argues, some of these type of attacks are really just plain juvenile–digitally spray painting Soviet symbols on Lithuanian websites, for example. Still, Nazario predicts that the networks that helped carry out this cyber attack will play an expanded role in future political clashes. And it’s potentially a low cost way to defeat your opponents without really fighting. As Sun Tzu wrote, “…attaining one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the pinnacle of excellence. Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.”

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