Stuxnet as Cyberwarfare: Applying the Law of War to the Virtual Battlefield
38 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2011
Date Written: July 22, 2011
In the field of international humanitarian law, there are a number of questions about the conduct of warfare in the cyber domain. In some cases, answers can be gleaned from treaties and customary international law but in other instances, solutions are seemingly intractable, begging for solutions that may only be answered by technology itself. From a legal perspective, such oversimplifications trivialize humanitarian law as well as other legal constructs already struggling to address complex issues in the cyber realm.
It is within this context that this paper focuses on a recent event known as Stuxnet, a computer virus that infected and damaged a nuclear research facility in Natanz, Iran. Reflecting on this particular cyber attack, this paper addresses two IHL issues: Does the Stuxnet attack rise to the level of an armed attack within the meaning of international humanitarian law? If so, did it adhere to the two core principles of IHL, namely distinction and proportionality? This paper finds that the Stuxnet attack does in fact rise to the level of an armed attack within the meaning of IHL and adheres to the principles of distinction and proportionality.
Keywords: Stuxnet, cyberwar, cyberwarfare, law of war, IHL, humanitarian law, virus, Iran, Natanz, proportionality, distinction
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