Cyber Warfare

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The Oxford Statement on International Law Protections in Cyberspace: The Regulation of Ransomware Operations

In the past few months, nothing has reminded everyone of the etymology of the expression ‘computer virus’ like ransomware. This form of malicious code is delivered through a vulnerability in the victim’s system, such as a phishing email or password spraying, infiltrating and potentially crippling it like a disease. Specifically, ransomware is used to encrypt user data and either delete or release that data unless a demand (commonly for money) is met. Ipso facto, ransomware causes by definition adverse consequences for its intended and unintended targets. Even when the ransom is paid or the attacker’s demand is eventually met, frequently a portion of the encrypted data will have been lost anyway and the victim may be forced to stay offline for a while, incurring significant costs to repair or change its systems. Where the victim serves others, for example, providing public goods like healthcare, education, or utilities, the adverse consequences can quickly, and foreseeably, spread beyond the ransomware’s initial targets.  In other cases, the means by which ransomware is delivered — especially when delivered through or as part…

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The pandemic, UN cyber negotiations and international law and norms

Bright winter sunlight flooded the non-descript conference room in the Palais des Nations, as delegates of the UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on cyber took their seats. It was February 2020, and the 2-year multilateral process was still in its early days, with negotiations scheduled over the course of the next 18 months. While delegations did not…

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International Law at NATO’s Brussels Summit

The June 2021 NATO summit in Brussels was noteworthy for the U.S. renewal of its commitment to the Alliance. Speaking with Secretary-General Stoltenberg, President Biden reassured NATO members (the “Allies”) that “NATO is critically important for U.S. interests” and “Article 5, we take as a sacred obligation.” Also noteworthy was the extent to which NATO…

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Protecting Societies – Anchoring a new protection dimension in international law during armed conflict: An agenda for discussion

Adversarial military cyber operations carried out during armed conflict can affect the functioning of civilian societies in unprecedented ways, challenging the protective reach of international humanitarian law (IHL). In light of this, we argue for a recognition of new protection needs to shield critical societal processes from military cyber threats in situations of armed conflict. A…

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Old Habits Die Hard: Applying Existing International Law in Cyberspace and Beyond

In the past few years, a growing number of states have expressed their official positions on the applicability of international law in cyberspace. Most recently, New Zealand and Israel shared their own views on the topic to beef up the crowd. Initiatives of this kind are welcome and contribute to the gradual clarification of the extent…

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