- LAST REVIEWED: 19 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 30 June 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0076
- LAST REVIEWED: 19 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 30 June 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0076
Since the mid-1990s, discussion around the prospect of cyber war has become an increasingly hot topic. Many countries now place defense against cyber attacks at the highest level of priority in their national security strategies. The normative view of the threat is that, for those countries with a high level of dependence on information technology (IT) and networked infrastructure, a major cyber attack has the potential to level the playing field of military capability to devastating effect, whether it emanates from a hostile state or a non-state actor such as a terrorist group. Many have seized upon events such as the cyber attacks against Estonian networks in 2007 as early salvoes in the new global cyber war. Critical perspectives, however, suggest that cyber activity is fundamentally different from activity in the physical world, and cyber attacks cannot be classified as acts of war as such. There is further suspicion that the level of threat has been overly militarized when its civil dimensions may be more important, and that military and corporate interest groups may be hypersecuritizing the threat for their own gain. Most of the analysis has been conducted in the United States, the dominant military power and one of the most network-dependent countries in the world. Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the normative views of the military cyber threat point the finger of blame squarely at China and, to a lesser extent, Russia, suggesting a new Cold War. Throughout the debate, most accept that cyber threats are real and are growing in complexity and potential impact. Analyzing the nature of cyber threat in the military realm delivers a number of complexities. Much has been written about the legal aspects of “acts of war,” from both offensive and defensive perspectives, and how existing domestic and international regulation may be poorly designed to deal with cyber attacks. Governance of cyber capabilities and cyber defenses is proving to be a complicated affair, cutting across traditional boundaries of public/private, civil/military, and national/international. How to deliver deterrence in a cyber context has been considered extensively, with parallels often being drawn with the rise of the nuclear threat in the 20th century. Analysis of case studies of what may constitute cyber attacks will be important in this fast-moving subject area. These case studies are examined from the perspectives of specific incidents in space and time and of specific technologies being used and how to counter them. Generally, cyber war is proving to be a very interdisciplinary subject, spanning technical, legal, sociological, and political realms. This makes it a vibrant new subject, but also a challenging one for academia, since the subject does not easily sit within a single identifiable department. Within the general domain of Security Studies, most of the socio-political analysis has been rooted either in conflict studies, especially the changing nature of postmodern conflict, or in securitization theory and the manner in which the threat is emerging from political discourse. But these are not the only directions from which the subject is being or should be approached.
Given the heightened interest in cyber threats generally, a number of books have emerged recently on the perceived threat of cyber war. Most of these are written by US authors and take a US-centric perspective on the issue, noting the fact that the particular dependence on networked infrastructure in the US military and in society in general could prove to be the country’s greatest weakness in the event of conflict. Many commentaries are also concerned with how the US government should position its cyber defense strategies, with many taking a critical view of progress made in this area. The normative view presented by most books in this field is that the threat of cyber war has gone beyond a hypothetical possibility and is present today. Clarke and Knake 2010, through the former’s position as a National Coordinator on Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counterterrorism under four former US presidents, promotes this view and suggests that US cyber security policy is not yet fit for purpose. Geers 2011, working from a position within NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Estonia, agrees that the threat is a major one to international security. Kramer, et al. 2009 presents a similar thesis with some policy recommendations, as does Rosenzweig 2013. Carr 2010 and the edited volume Latham 2003 provide some deep analysis of the nature of the cyber war threat and its complex intermingling with other threat vectors such as crime, activism, and terrorism. Denning 1998 and Healey 2013 provide a similar analysis of the changing nature of threat in this area, drawing some interesting parallels with information warfare through history. Rid 2013 offers a rare critical reading of the normative view of cyber war and does so from a non-US perspective. Richards 2014 is similarly skeptical about whether any of the events seen so far constitute acts of war, while suggesting that the pace of technological change means that such an eventuality in the future cannot be ruled out.
Carr, Jeffrey. Inside Cyber Warfare. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, 2010.
A comprehensive and valuable overview of the threat landscape that notes the complex blurring of boundaries between different types of cyber threats and activities.
Clarke, Richard A., and Robert K. Knake. Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do about it. New York: HarperCollins, 2010.
A detailed and pessimistic assessment of the threats from cyber war to the United States and its ability to formulate suitable policy responses.
Denning, Dorothy E. Information Warfare and Security. New York: ACM Press, 1998.
From a professor of computer science at Georgetown University, a data-rich overview of cases that draw some interesting parallels with cases of information warfare in history.
Geers, Kenneth. Strategic Cyber Security. Tallinn, Estonia: CCD COE, 2011.
Published by the US representative at NATO’s cyber security center in Estonia, this study suggests the cyber threat has evolved from a computer security issue to a major strategic threat to national and international security.
Healey, Jason. A Fierce Domain: Conflict in Cyberspace, 1986 to 2012. Vienna: Cyber Conflict Studies Association, 2013.
A fascinating historical account, from a former cyber warrior in the US Air Force, that concludes with the assessment that a deadly cyber attack has not yet been seen.
Kramer, Franklin D., Stuart H. Starr, and Larry Wentz, eds. Cyperpower and National Security. Dulles, VA: Potomac, 2009.
A useful edited volume written in response to a requirement, from the US Under Secretary for Defense, to establish national security policy guidelines in the face of cyber attacks.
Latham, Robert, ed. Bombs and Bandwidth: The Emerging Relationship between Information Technology and Security. New York: New Press, 2003.
An edited volume containing chapters, by many of the leading scholars in the field, that explore the changing boundaries between actors and sectors in traditional notions of security with the advent of the information revolution.
Richards, Julian. Cyber War: The Anatomy of the Global Security Threat. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
A condensed overview of the question of how cyber war can be defined, taking a cautiously critical line that suggests it has not yet been seen in terms of a traditional understanding of acts of war.
Rid, Thomas. Cyber War Will Not Take Place. London: Hurst, 2013.
A skeptical assessment of the threat of cyber warfare, yet accepts that cyber threats of a different nature are real and potentially serious.
Rosenzweig, Paul. Cyber Warfare: How Conflicts in Cyberspace Are Challenging America and Changing the World. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2013.
Attempts to outline the seriousness of the risks while emphasizing that there are also many benefits and opportunities in the Information Age.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
- Academic Theories of International Relations Since 1945
- Arab-Israeli Wars
- Arab-Israeli Wars, 1967-1973, The
- Arms Control
- Arms Races
- Arms Trade
- Asylum Policies
- Authoritarian Regimes
- Balance of Power Theory
- Bargaining Theory of War
- Challenge of Communism, The
- China and Japan
- China's Defense Policy
- China's Foreign Policy
- Civil Resistance
- Civil Society in the European Union
- Cold War, The
- Conflict Behavior and the Prevention of War
- Conflict Management
- Countermeasures in International Law
- Criminal Law, International
- Critical Theory of International Relations
- Cuban Missile Crisis, The
- Cultural Diplomacy
- Cyber Security
- Cyber Warfare
- Demobilization, Post World War I
- Democracies and World Order
- Democracy and Conflict
- Democracy in World Politics
- Deterrence Theory
- Diplomacy, History of
- Diplomacy, Public
- Disaster Diplomacy
- Drone Warfare
- Eastern Front (World War I)
- Economics, International
- Embedded Liberalism
- Emerging Powers and BRICS
- Empirical Testing of Formal Models
- Energy and International Security
- Epidemic Diseases and their Effects on History
- Ethics and Morality in International Relations
- Ethnicity in International Relations
- European Migration Policy
- European Security and Defense Policy, The
- European Union as an International Actor
- European Union, International Relations of the
- Fascism, The Challenge of
- Feminist Security Studies
- Food Security
- Forecasting in International Relations
- Foreign Policy, Theories of
- French Empire, 20th-Century
- From Club to Network Diplomacy
- Future of NATO
- Game Theory and Interstate Conflict
- Gender and Terrorism
- Genocide, Politicide, and Mass Atrocities Against Civilian...
- Genocides, 20th Century
- Geopolitics and Geostrategy
- Germany in World War II
- Global Citizenship
- Global Civil Society
- Global Constitutionalism
- Global Environmental Politics
- Global Ethic of Care
- Global Governance
- Global Justice, Western Perspectives
- Grand Strategy
- Greater Middle East, The
- Hague Conferences (1899, 1907)
- History and International Relations
- Human Rights
- Human Rights and Humanitarian Diplomacy
- Human Rights Law
- Intelligence Oversight
- Internal Displacement
- International Conflict Settlements, The Durability of
- International Criminal Court, The
- International Economic Organizations (IMF and World Bank)
- International Health Governance
- International Justice, Theories of
- International Law
- International Monetary Relations, History of
- International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution
- International Nongovernmental Organizations
- International Organizations
- International Relations as a Social Science
- International Relations Theory
- International Security
- International Society
- International Society, Theorizing
- International Support For Nonstate Armed Groups
- Internet Law
- Interstate Cooperation Theory and International Institutio...
- Intervention and Use of Force
- Iran, Politics and Foreign Policy
- Iraq: Past and Present
- Just War Theory
- Korean War
- Kurdistan and Kurdish Politics
- Law of the Sea
- Laws of War
- Leadership in International Affairs
- League of Nations
- Lean Forward and Pull Back Options for US Grand Strategy
- Mediation and Civil Wars
- Mediation in International Conflicts
- Mediation via International Organizations
- Middle East, The Contemporary
- Middle Powers and Regional Powers
- Military Science
- Minority Rights
- Multilateralism (1992–), Return to
- National Liberation, International Law and Wars of
- National Security Act of 1947, The
- Nations and Nationalism
- NATO, Europe, and Russia: Security Issues and the Border R...
- New Multilateralism in the Early 21st Century
- Nonproliferation and Counterproliferation
- Nonviolent Resistance Datasets
- Peace of Utrecht
- Peacebuilding, Post-Conflict
- Political Demography
- Political Economy of National Security
- Political Extremism in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Political Learning and Socialization
- Political Psychology
- Politics and Islam in Turkey
- Popular Culture and International Relations
- Post-Civil War State
- Post-Conflict and Transitional Justice
- Power Transition Theory
- Preventive War and Preemption
- Prisoners, Treatment of
- Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs)
- Pro-Government Militias
- Prospect Theory in International Relations
- Public Opinion and the European Union
- Quantum Social Science
- Race and International Relations
- Religion and International Relations
- Religiously Motivated Violence
- Reputation in International Relations
- Responsibility to Protect
- Rising Powers in World Politics
- Russian Revolutions and Civil War, 1917-1921
- Sanctions in International Law
- Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), The
- Shining Path
- Social Scientific Theories of Imperialism
- Soviet Union in World War II
- Space Strategy, Policy, and Power
- Spatial Dependencies and International Mediation
- State Theory in International Relations
- Strategic Air Power
- Strategic and Net Assessments
- Sustainable Development
- Teaching International Relations
- Territorial Disputes
- Terrorist Financing
- Terrorist Group Strategies
- The Changing Nature of Diplomacy
- The Queer in/of International Relations
- The Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relation...
- Theories of International Relations, Feminist
- Theory, Chinese International Relations
- Trade Law
- Transnational Actors
- Transnational Social Movements
- Trust and International Relations
- UN Security Council
- United Nations, The
- US and Africa
- US–UK Special Relationship
- Voluntary International Migration
- War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714)
- Western Balkans
- Western Front (World War I)
- Westphalia, Peace of (1648)
- Women and Peacemaking Peacekeeping
- World Economy 1919-1939
- World Polity School
- World War II Diplomacy and Political Relations