What is it about?

This article addresses the problem of international law enforcement within the War on Cyberterrorism. Hybrid conflicts have replaced the traditional ones, and new threats have emerged in cyberspace, which has become a virtual battlefield. Cyber threats - cybercrimes, cyberterrorism, cyberwarfare - are a major concern for Western governments, especially for the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The international community has begun to consider cyberattacks as a form of terrorism, to which the same measures apply. This paper addresses the question of whether or not current laws of war and international humanitarian law apply to cyber domain

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Why is it important?

In this paper, we have assessed whether human rights law and the law of war, which are a branch of international law, apply to the War on Cyberterrorism. In my opinion the problem lies in international customary law. I think that the customary law that is being formed recently is contrary to the principles established by IHL, that is binding for all states.


The threat to security is not enough to characterize an action as an act of terrorism. If we compare cyberterrorism to cyberwarfare, or to a form of conventional conflict, it should be noted that cyberterrorism or cyberwarfare cannot be considered a conventional conflict, a war, although the component of violence is present in both cyberevents. Even considering cyberwarfare as a traditional armed conflict, we must keep in mind that a war should have a temporal physical space: a territory where the clash occurs, and beginning and end of hostilities. The termination of hostilities is essential for the release of prisoners of war. This is another weak point in support of cyberwarfare's equalization of a conventional conflict, as well as the need to define the theater of operations, which in cyberspace is virtual and unlimited. I believe that non-state cyberterrorism should be treated as a form of ordinary crime, applying the tools already available, while state-sponsored cyberattacks can apply the NATO doctrine, which equates the cyber domain with the three traditional domains. This doctrine needs to meet international humanitarian law and the law of war.

Dr Marco Marsili
Centro de Investigação do Instituto de Estudos Políticos da Universidade Católica Portuguesa (CIEP-UCP)

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This page is a summary of: The War on Cyberterrorism, Democracy and Security, July 2018, Taylor & Francis, DOI: 10.1080/17419166.2018.1496826.
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