This blog recently discussed whether international mechanisms exist to award damages caused by potential cyberwars. And now it appears that a cyberwar actually is taking place with respect to Ukraine.
Press accounts have been rampant in terms of the turmoil over Crimea, Russia, and Ukraine. And while there have been possible threats of physical force, there also have been reports of disruption of mobile communications as a result of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that 42 cyberattacks hit Ukrainian government websites during Crimea's vote to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. On top of that, there reportedly has been defacement of some Ukrainian state-run news websites and social media outlets, with pro-Russian propaganda replacing their original content.
And before that, "cyberspies" reportedly targeted certain Ukrainian computer systems.
Do the above types of activities amount to cyber crimes or do they verge into the realm of armed conflict?
In and of themselves, these activities do not appear to constitute armed conflict. However, if these cyber activities escalate such that they are supporting violent efforts, then they could be deemed part of an armed conflict. In that event, the international law of armed conflict could come into play.
The law of armed conflict seeks to protect persons who are not participating in hostilities, and governs the methods of warfare between combatants. The law of armed conflict derives from the Geneva Conventions, the Hague Conventions, treatises, case law, and customary international law.
An ultimate goal of the law of armed conflict is to limit the destructive effect of warfare and to lessen human suffering.
Will the law of armed conflict in service of this goal be brought to bear when it comes to Ukrainian DDoS attacks and related cyber activities? We shall see.
This article is for general information and does not include full legal analysis of the matters presented. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The description of the results of any specific case or transaction contained herein does not mean or suggest that similar results can or could be obtained in any other matter. Each legal matter should be considered to be unique and subject to varying results. The invitation to contact the authors or attorneys in our firm is not a solicitation to provide professional services and should not be construed as a statement as to any availability to perform legal services in any jurisdiction in which such attorney is not permitted to practice.
Duane Morris LLP, a full-service law firm with more than 700 attorneys in 24 offices in the United States and internationally, offers innovative solutions to the legal and business challenges presented by today's evolving global markets. Duane Morris LLP, a full-service law firm with more than 700 attorneys in 24 offices in the United States and internationally, offers innovative solutions to the legal and business challenges presented by today's evolving global markets. The Duane Morris Institute provides training workshops for HR professionals, in-house counsel, benefits administrators and senior managers.