Lawful State Responses to Low-Level Cyber-Attacks

In: Nordic Journal of International Law
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  • 1 University of Copenhagen, Denmark

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The article discusses the sources of international law that may justify a state to respond to harmful interferences in cyberspace that occur outside times of armed conflict and that are not sufficiently serious to merit a rersort to self-defence under the un Charter. The focus is primarily aimed at the more immediate measures a targeted state may adopt in order to bring on-going harmful cyber-activities to a halt. The article opens with a discussion of the application of the traditional principles of sovereignty to activities in cyberspace and subsequently analyses how the principles of countermeasures may be applied to various forms of harmful cyber-incidents that fall below the threshold for triggering a right to self-defence. The article also examines the extent to which a plea of necessity may be invoked in order to justify the use of immediate defensive measures against cyber-attacks that may have an effect on other states.

  • 15

    Reuters Business, ‘Obama does not consider Sony hack and act of war’, The New York Times, 21 December 2014, <www.nytimes.com/video/multimedia/100000003383614/obama-does-not-consider-sony-hack-an-act-of-war-cnn-interview.html>, visited on 5 January 2015.

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  • 20

    Schreier, supra note 19, p. 10.

  • 22

    Kello, supra note 21, p. 20: “Essentially an intelligence-gathering activity, cyberexploitation relies on stealth and undetectability; thus disruption of the host system, which can lead to discovery and closure of access, defeats the purpose of exploitation.”

  • 23

    M. Mazzetti and D.E. Sanger, ‘Tap on Merkel Provides Peek at Vast Spy Net’, The New York Times, 30 October 2013, <www.nytimes.com/2013/10/31/world/europe/tap-on-merkel-provides-peek-at-vast-spy-net.html>, visited on 29 March 2014.

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  • 24

    J. Reed, ‘Did Chinese Espionage Lead to F-35 Delays?’, Defense Tech, 8 February 2012, <defensetech.org/2012/02/06/did-chinese-espionage-lead-to-f-35-delays>, visited on 29 March 2014. On alleged Chinese cyber-espionage aimed at the United States see also D. E. Sanger et al., ‘Chinese Army Unit Is Seen as Tied to Hacking Against u.s.’, The New York Times, 18 February 2013, <www.nytimes.com/2013/02/19/technology/chinas-army-is-seen-as-tied-to-hacking-against-us.html>, visited on 29 March 2014.

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  • 33

    Schmitt, supra note 6, rules 2 and 3.

  • 34

    Heinegg, supra note 16, p. 126. See also Schmitt, supra note 6, rule 2(3).

  • 37

    Schmitt, supra note 6, rule 5(5).

  • 39

    Schmitt, supra note 6, rule 5(5).

  • 45

    Schmitt, supra note 6, rule 5(9).

  • 49

    Heinegg, supra note 16, p. 137.

  • 50

    Schmitt, supra note 6, rule 5(12).

  • 51

    Heinegg, supra note 16, p. 138.

  • 56

    Schmitt, supra note 6, rule 9.

  • 64

    Schmitt, supra note 6, rule 1(6).

  • 67

    Ziolkowski, supra note 63, 425–464. See also W.H. Parks, ‘The International Law of Intelligence Collection’, in J.N. Moore and R.F. Turner (eds.), National Security Law (Carolina Academic Press, Durham, 1990) pp. 433–434; D.B. Silver, ‘Intelligence and Counterintelligence’, in J.N. Moore and R.F. Turner (eds.), National Security Law (Carolina Academic Press, Durham, 2005) p. 935. A specific prohibition against espionage is found in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, supra note 32, Art. 27.

  • 68

    Ziolkowski, supra note 63, pp. 457–459.

  • 80

    Joyner and Lotrionte, supra note 7, p. 849; Roscini, supra note 7, pp. 102–103.

  • 90

    Geiss and Lahmann, ibid., pp. 636–637. See also M.E. O’Connell, ‘Evidence of Terror’, 7:1 Journal of Conflict and Security Law (2002), and J. Lobel, ‘The Use of Force to Respond to Terrorist Attacks: The Bombing of Sudan and Afghanistan’, 24 The Yale Journal of International Law (1999) p. 547.

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  • 91

    Schmitt, supra note 6, rule 9(7).

  • 94

    Schmitt, supra note 6, rule 9(7).

  • 96

    White and Abass, supra note 54, pp. 539–540.

  • 107

    Roscini, supra note 7, p. 106.

  • 112

    Schmitt, supra note 7, p. 915.

  • 113

    Schmitt, supra note 6, rule 11(9 a-h).

  • 134

    Schmitt, supra note 6, rule 9 (12).

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