Academic journal article Military Review

Cyberwarfare: Ways, Warriors and Weapons of Mass Destruction

Academic journal article Military Review

Cyberwarfare: Ways, Warriors and Weapons of Mass Destruction

Article excerpt

CYBERWARFARE is the hottest topic in the US military and in many of the top executive branch offices, and for good reason. The United States is very good at technology, and with the resources to procure whatever equipment and personnel it needs, information-warfare methods are potentially the most powerful weapons in the 21st-century national arsenal.2 These weapons have the potential, like a handful of past advances, to significantly change the face of battle. Warfare by computer has no "front line," and with the low cost of technology, anyone can play.

With these advances bearing down on us, we need to spend some time before incorporating these weapons into our repertoire to think about the desired end state.

This article focuses on three of the myriad issues that will arise as the US military begins to incorporate cyberwar techniques. The questions posed are whether the techniques discussed are actually weapons, the identity and combatant status of the individuals who will actually wage cyberwar and whether the techniques addressed should be considered weapons of mass destruction.

Before we address the underlying issues we must set the terms of the debate. What exactly do we mean by "cyberwarfare"? This article will use as the definition of cyberwarfare: "nonkinetic, offensive actions taken to achieve information superiority by affecting enemy information-based processes, information systems and computer-based networks." Cyberwar methods here would include computer network attacks, transmitting computer viruses and other significant destructive hacking.

Such a definition has not been embraced by the Department of Defense (DOD). For reasons (presumably) best known to Pentagon insiders, DOD has insisted on using the much more expansive term -information operations" (IO) when discussing these issues. DOD defines IO as "[a]ctions taken to affect adversary information and information systems while defending one's own information and information systems."3

The DOD's definition of IO is so broad that it includes every tool at the nation's disposal, including security guards, news releases and 2,000-pound bombs. Such an all-inclusive definition makes discussion of cyber-specific issues impractical if not impossible. Cyberwarfare is the thornier issue, as kinetic attacks are clearly acts of military aggression; it is vital to hone in on the new issues without clouding them with the traditional ones.

Others have noted this weakness, as well. There has been a plethora of attempts to define, refine and codify it; some of those attempts are unhelpful. Without meaning to single out any specific article for criticism, an example of this phenomenon is a recent thesis published by Air University titled "Information as a Weapon."4 This title is ambiguous and unnecessarily limiting. Use of information as a weapon has a long history, predating the modem electronic age; it most often involves what is more properly termed psychological operations or propaganda. The use of information or misinformation can be a very effective warfighting tool.

However, in this article and the evolving modem warfighting, the core concept of cyberwarfare is one of electronic processes rather than the message imparted. For that reason, this article will discuss cyber-warfare as defined above. Understanding these modem processes and their applicability in a warfighting context is still in the formative stages. This article is a first step toward a better understanding.

Electrons as Bullets

Warfighting has always evolved with advances in technology. More specifically, military departments have often been on the cutting edge of technological advances in order to have the best and most up-to-date warfighting capability. Man has made tools to fight more effectively; thus there were swords, lances and bows and arrows.

With advances have come changes in warfare, although some were resisted. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.