Cybersecurity, Cyberwarfare, and Cyberterrorism

A Look into the Threat and Ethics of the New Face of War

By Olivia Adams


[dropcap]C[/dropcap]ybersecurity – the protection of information, systems, and hardware – should be one of the highest priorities of corporations, agencies, and governments around the world, and is becoming an increasingly pressing issue as technology constantly improves. The issues of cybersecurity, cyberwarfare, and cyberterrorism are quickly changing the arena of international relations, diplomacy, and national security.

According to David J. Betz and Tim Stevens in their paper Cyberspace and the State, cyberspace possesses several unique features that make it a completely new territory with its own set of challenges:

  1. It allows for anonymity: the identities and locations of users does not have to be disclosed.
  2. It globalizes the world at a rapid rate by providing governments, other institutions, and individuals access to a tremendous amount of information. Additionally, much of this information is available almost instantly to anyone.
  3. The barriers around cyberspace are crumbling as access to Internet-enabled devices is increasing.

Betz and Stevens articulate that cyberspace has helped create enormous opportunities in enterprise, public goods and services, and allows for individuals to be more connected and educated. However, cyberspace also revolutionizes warfare and diplomacy. Militaries and governments are able to manipulate cyberspace through hacking, which can deliver vital information, bring down systems, and crash hardware. This poses both a security risk and the possibility of millions or billions of dollars in damage.

Cybersecurity should be one of the most pressing issues of national security for the United States (US), as it empowers both non-state actors and governments seeking to do harm “anonymously” to attack the US with minimal risks. It is a positive development that the US, like many other countries, is seeking to improve its cybersecurity in the hope of protecting itself from devastating attacks that can threaten its infrastructure, economy and national security.

Even as the US and many countries are working to ensure that their information, systems, and hardware are protected again cybersecurity threats, those same countries are also developing their capabilities to conduct cyberwarfare and cyberterrorism. Cyberwarfare, according to the RAND Corporation, “involves the actions by a nation-state or international organization to attack and attempt to damage another nation’s computers or information networks.” Cyberterrorism on the other hand, according to the United State Institute of Peace (USIP), “refers to unlawful attacks and threats of attacks against computers, network, and the information stored therein when done to intimidate or coerce a government or its people in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

While the fear of cyberterrorism is so far disproportionate to the number of instances of actual cyberterrorism, there have been high-case profiles of cyberterrorism in the past several years. On November 24, 2014, the hacker group “Guardians of Peace,” (GOP) leaked a release of confidential data from Sony Pictures Entertainment, including personal information of Sony employees, salary information, and copies of then-unreleased Sony films. GOP then demanded that Sony pull its film The Interview, a comedy about a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, and threatened terrorist attacks at theatres screening the movie, causing Sony to withdraw public screenings of the film. US intelligence officials assessed that North Korea was behind the threats and attacks, although North Korea has denied all responsibility.

Cyberwarfare, unlike cyberterrorism, is quite common. The US has utilized cyberwarfare capabilities to inhibit Iran’s development of weapons of mass destruction, as described by David Sanger in Olympic Games. Moreover, cyberwarfare is changing the face of war. While in traditional warfare, countries must defend physical territory, in cyberwarfare, countries must safeguard complicated networks that span across the globe. More importantly, cyberwarfare is constantly evolving, which makes defining its limitations, something akin to the rules of war, incredibly difficult.

Finally, the question of the ethics of cyberwarfare is of pivotal importance. Answering the question is almost impossible, considering the relative newness of cyberspace in general and cyberwarfare in particular. Ethical or not, cybersecurity, cyberwarfare, and cyberterrorism should be considered one of the greatest national security threats to the US and the world going forward.


Olivia Adams is a freshman in Davenport College who blogs about cyberwarfare. You can contact her at