In the last week or so, cyberwarfare has made front-page news: the United States may have been behind the Stuxnet cyberattack on Iran; Iran may have suffered another digital attack with the Flame virus; and our military and industrial computer chips may or may not be compromised by backdoor switches implanted by China. These revelations suggest that the way we fight wars is changing, and so are the rules.
This digital evolution means that it is now less clear what kind of events should reasonably trigger a war, as well as how and when new technologies may be used. With cyberweapons, a war theoretically could be waged without casualties or political risk, so their attractiveness is great — maybe so irresistible that nations are tempted to use them before such aggression is justified. This essay identifies some important ethical issues that have been upturned by these emerging digital weapons, which in turn help explain why national cyberdefense is such a difficult policy area.