Global Ethics Corner: The Ethics of Cyber Warfare

Jun 15, 2012

An influential Russian engineer recently called for an international ban on cyber weapons, saying that they could have unforeseen consequences, but many American analysts disagree. Are these weapons dangerous or are they a cheaper and more ethical alternative to traditional warfare?

The 21st century has already seen its fair share of inventions. We now have iPods, iPhones, and even electric cars. But not all inventions are positive ones. Could this century's most dangerous innovation be cyber weaponry?

That's the argument of the Russian telecommunications engineer Eugene Kaspersky. He founded one of the world's leading antivirus companies. He and many others believe that alleged state-sponsored cyber viruses like Stuxnet threaten global security. He draws a parallel to the Manhattan Project 70 years ago, which developed the nuclear bomb, saying that government efforts to build powerful cyber viruses have unforeseen consequences. That's why Kaspersky is calling for a ban on cyber weaponry. Unless countries adopt an international treaty forbidding computer warfare, he warns that states' military defenses, power grids, and financial systems will be under serious threat.

Experts agree that it's hard to predict all of the ramifications of cyber weapons. Because cyber viruses cross national boundaries, they could potentially be declared as official acts of war-and could spark a more bloody form of warfare.

But for all the naysayers, there are also cyber advocates. Many American analysts say cyber weapons are an ethical alternative to violence. After all, unlike nuclear weapons, tools like Stuxnet don't have to cost lives. Cyber weapons are also cheaper than traditional military warfare—costing just a fraction of typical arms costs. What's more, the U.S. has a clear military advantage in the cyber sphere. When it comes to cyber war, the U.S. is way ahead of its competitors. And that's exactly why some say Kaspersky and his Russian colleagues are calling for an online arms control ban.

What do you think? Should cyber weapons be banned, or are they an ethical alternative to traditional warfare?

By Marlene Spoerri

Andrew E. Kramer and Nicole Perlroth, "Expert Issues a Cyberwar Warning," The New York Times, June 3, 2012

Photo Credits in order of Appearance:
Kate Ter Haar
x-ray delta one
Forum PA
U.S. Government employee
Kai Mörk
The U.S. Army [also for images 9, 10, & 12]
Official U.S. Air Force
US Army Africa
CeBIT Australia

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