Photo: Illustrative photo: Reuters and Marc Israel Sellem
Judging from the slew of news over the past week or so, the field of cyber warfare is fast becoming a dominant element in every developed country’s military arsenal.In a span of just a few days there has been a flurry of news items related to cyber warfare: the anti-virus firm Kaspersky discovered that Iran’s nuclear program was struck again, this time by Flame, which effectively turns every computer it infects into a spy; The New York Times reported that the US and Israel were behind the Stuxnet worm, which also attacked Iran’s nuclear program; NATO held its Fourth International Conference on Cyber Conflict; and Israel hosted its own conference on cyber warfare at Tel Aviv University. Indeed, there is good reason for the rising interest – and deployment – of cyber warfare. After all, there are many appealing aspects to cyber warfare. Instead of wreaking mass destruction and snuffing out human life, countries can instead attack virtual targets in cyberspace. An aggressor state does not need to expose its own troops to the dangers of conventional or unconventional warfare, thus avoiding casualties and the difficulty Western societies have coping with these casualties. And since cyber weapons can be deployed anonymously from a distance, the aggressor often does not risk political fallout let alone absorbing a retaliatory attack. Indeed, cyber warfare seems so bloodless and “clean” that there hardly appear to be any real ethical dilemmas with which to grapple. Just War Theory, based on Judeo-Christian moral principles and Western moral philosophy, is concerned with limiting human casualties and physical damage. When warfare is waged using a piece of code against some intangible objects, without directly causing casualties or physical damage, the anthropocentric principles of Just War Theory hardly seem to apply. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to claim that cyber warfare can be conducted without a consideration of its moral limits. For instance, if it knocks out electricity and the refrigeration necessary to protect supplies, even a modest cyber attack could lead to starvation and the suffering of thousands of innocent.
Or if a cyber attack disables an air traffic control tower, this could lead to plane crashes and deaths. And even if “only” intangible targets are wiped out, this could have far-reaching consequences. Advanced economies – especially fields such as business and property services, communications, finance and insurance – depend for their functioning and growth on information-based, intangible assets. Luciano Floridi of the University of Oxford has estimated that in highly developed countries as much as 70 percent of GDP depends on intangible goods. An attack on these intangibles could result in a major economic crisis with potential lethal consequences. Therefore, it is absolutely imperative that the international community draft an up to date moral code. An important step toward applying Just War Theory was taken by Patrick Lin, Fritz Allhoff and Neil Rowe in an article titled, “Is It Possible to Wage a Just Cyberwar?” that appeared on The Atlantic’s website this week. We in Israel, basing ourselves on traditional sources, should work toward a uniquely Jewish ethical theory applicable to the 21st-century reality of cyber warfare. With the Jewish people’s return to statehood, new realities have been created that demand a reappraisal of ancient Jewish sources. Modest headway has already been made in few fields – including updating Jewish laws governing conventional and unconventional warfare. But more needs to be done. Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared this week that Israel was seeking to be a global leader in cyber warfare. In parallel to using Israeli hi-tech know-how to develop our cyber warfare capabilities, we should strive to delve into our rich cultural inheritance and make a contribution to the world in the field of military ethics as well.