Regulating Cyber Warfare: Why International Law Might Need a Refresh

When we typically picture warfare, we think of military grade weaponry associated with large-scale collateral damage. When we hear the term cyberwarfare, we may think of computer viruses, technological jargon, and elusive hackers shutting down IT systems. Despite their differences cyberwarfare’s regulations in international law are far more closely related to traditional warfare than one might expect. This poses new challenges for International Humanitarian Law have left many legal scholars and policy makers questioning whether conventional rules regulating armed conflicts can actually be extrapolated to cyberspace.

The NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence stands behind this approach through drafting the Tallinn Manual 2.0. This document makes use of extensive legal theorising to prove how current international legal norms can be applied to cyberwarfare. For this reason the Tallinn Manual 2.0 intends to only describe the lex lata, the law as it exists, rather than acting as a binding document or treatise. Other nations, most notably Russia and China, have instead pushed for more regulations on cyber warfare as part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in 2009 and the International Information Security Code of Conduct in September 2011

But which approach is the right one? Do we work with the established international laws we have or do we need to create succinct laws?

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Facebook and Australia: Cyber domain in turmoil?

On the morning of the 18th of February, Australians woke up to find that their access to global and local news sites on Facebook had been restricted. The issue of Australia wanting to force Facebook to pay their news institutions for putting their news online has been and still is a hot debate. Nonetheless, people in Australia and the rest of the world were disgruntled to notice how ruthlessly access to certain news sites on Facebook had been restricted. PM Scott Morrison said the following: “Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” Furthermore, the ex-Facebook Australian boss Mr Scheeler made the following statement: “I’ve come around to the view that the scale, size and influence of these platforms, particularly on our minds, our brains, and all the things that we do as citizens, as consumers, are just so powerful that leaving them in the hands of a few, very closely controlled companies like Facebook is the recipe for disaster.” 

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Cybercrime and COVID-19: an unfortunate partnership

Rising cybercrime is one of the countless ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic and similarly to the spread of the virus, it is the wider population that can help mitigate the impact of such crime. COVID-19 related cybercrime has much less to do with hooded teens slouched over RGB keyboards and more with targeted exploitation of our ever-changing vulnerabilities as the global pandemic spreads.

While the romanticized notion of a mastermind hacker has never held true outside of Hollywood, the fact that cybercrime has risen significantly since the onset of the pandemic is very much real. Many are now looking at ways to solve this issue especially when there is no single body held accountable.

The repercussions of COVID-19 on the state of worldwide cybersecurity, shows it is necessary to properly educate the wider population on contemporary cyber risks.

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