Future Tense

Are There Ever Any “Good Guys” in Cyberwar?

Yesterday, Patrick Lin, Fritz Allhoff, and Neil Rowe asked in the Atlantic, “Is it possible to wage a just cyberwar?” The trio ran through some of the ethical challenges of digital battle: differentiating between genuine cyberwarfare, vandalism, and espionage; identifying noncombatants; and figuring out from where an attack originated. The authors do not weigh in on whether just cyberwar is possible but instead urge more discussion of the matter, writing, “By building ethics into the design and use of cyberweapons, we can help ensure that war is not more cruel than it already is.”


Meanwhile, Cyrus Farivar has interviewed Stuxnet expert Ralph Langer for Ars Technica—and Langer says something that nearly—but not quite—answers Lin, Allhoff, and Rowe’s question. Langer, a German security researcher, is of the opinion that Stuxnet was launched by the United States—and, he tells Farivar, “During the first weeks of our analysis, I had a hard time finding sleep, as long as we assumed that [Stuxnet] could have been the Russians. … That would have been a very uncomfortable thought, because the capabilities that you see are so advanced. I think when I reached the conclusions that this must have been launched by the United States that added to my comfort—you’re the good guys.” Langer doesn’t quite say that Stuxnet itself was ethical—and good guys can behave badly. Nevertheless, this is good fodder for debate over the provocative questions raised on the Atlantic yesterday.

Read more on the Atlantic and Ars Technica.