Regulating nation-state cyber attacks in counterterrorism operations
Garcia, Colleen Elizabeth.
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In August 2008, a military conflict between Georgia and Russia occurred in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russian military action in this conflict was immediately preceded by a number of cyber attacks against a variety of Georgian Government Web sites, and while the perpetrator(s) was never conclusively identified, Russia denied involvement. Importantly, however, the Georgian cyber attacks seem to be the first instance of cyber attacks used in combination with conventional attacks. In combating each other through the kinetic attacks used to date, nation-states have been required to comply with the longstanding law of armed conflict. Yet, modern warfare now challenges this accepted regulation in two ways. First, as was just demonstrated, cyber attacks now may complement traditional kinetic attacks. And second, it is not fellow states that nations now commonly face in combat as people suspected was the case during the Georgian attacks, but rather nonstate actors, a fact made evident by the ongoing Global War on Terror. This thesis will therefore seek to answer two questions: (1) Are existing international laws governing cyber attacks conducted by nation-states against terrorists sufficient? (2) If existing law is insufficient, how should international law be amended to better regulate the use of such cyber attacks in counterterrorism operations? To test the idea of sufficiency, the thesis will first examine potential nation-state cyber-attack scenarios that may be seen in future counterterrorism operations, and whether those possible attack scenarios are in keeping with international law principles. This assessment ultimately demonstrates that problems of evaluation and enforcement stymie attempts at regulation of nation-state cyber attacks in counterterrorism operations, creating new areas of concern for international law, which can only be resolved through the creation of cyber attack-specific legal principles and enhanced enforcement mechanisms.
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