It’s Time to Write the Rules of Cyberwar

The world needs a Geneva Convention for cybercombat

8 min read
It’s Time to Write the Rules of Cyberwar
Illustration: Eddie Guy

In the 21st century, just about everything is vulnerable to cyberattack. A hit on a bank or a stock exchange would cause uproar in the financial sector; a strike on an electrical grid could shut down a city. And the consequences of an attack could be far more dire than mere inconvenience. If hackers disrupted operations at a nuclear power facility, they could trigger a meltdown. An attack on a hospital could leave doctors scrambling in the dark, machines failing, and patients dying in their beds.

Such scenarios are becoming ever more plausible. In 2007 the cyberwar era began in earnest, when Estonia’s government networks were hacked during a political dispute with Russia. In recent years, the United States and China have accused each other of sponsoring major cyberintrusions, and Iran has accused the United States and Israel of unleashing a worm against its nuclear installations. Before such activities escalate into cyberattacks that destroy innocent lives, we should apply the lessons of the bitter past and establish the norms of cyberconflict. We should define acceptable targets, and we could even place limits on cyber weapons, just as we did on chemical ones nearly a century ago.

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