UConn Professor, Law Student Ponder Ramifications Of Cyberwarfare

, The Connecticut Law Tribune


Forget Terminator-style cyborgs sent back in time on an assassination mission.

Cyber warfare is here, but the form it takes doesn't involve lethal robots. It's things like Stuxnet, a computer "worm" that is believed to have been created in 2010 to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. Or unmanned planes – navigated by software and "pilots" on the ground – dropping bombs.

But while cyberwarfare is here, the law of war and the rules of engagement are largely undeveloped regarding cyberwar, according to David Thaw, a University of Connecticut visiting assistant professor of law whose scholarship focuses on cybersecurity regulation and cybercrime.

There is not even clarity in international law about when cyber warfare can be started. For example, Thaw asks, when would an attack on Google constitute an act of war instead of just criminal activity? What level of cyberwarfare is proportionate as a matter of law?

There is a "wide space that the law needs to catch up" on quickly, Thaw said.

The open legal questions have led Thaw and Joel Henry, a cyberspace operations officer of the 103rd Airlift Wing, Connecticut Air National Guard, and a UConn law student in his last semester, to research the law of armed conflict and cyberwarfare. They have presented their research at places like the Pentagon and NATO conferences.

Talking to experts in those forums made them realize that they needed to address not only what happens during a cyber warfare conflict, but about what leads up to the conflict.

Their collaboration started after Henry wrote a paper on cyberwarfare for one of Henry's classes, and because Henry has served as a cyberoperations officer with the Connecticut National Guard and the U.S. Air Force for five years. Prior to that, Henry was an Air Force captain and a weapons loader for A-10 fighter jets from 2002 to 2008. Until this semester, Henry was an evening law student working full time as an engineer.

The aim of professor and student is to develop "a set of legal guidelines to help the international community and the individual nation-states" as they draft their own laws and policies about cyber warfare, Thaw said.

Due to the interconnectivity of many systems with the Internet — for example, power grids, water and fuel pipelines and emergency services — cyberwarfare could have unintended consequences. For example, Country A deploys a cyberweapon against Country B, but the weapon affects systems in Country C due to the interconnective nature of technology, Thaw said.

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