Cherry Picking Laws, Compliance & Ethics


There are more similarities than differences between cyber and military attacks. There are more differences in how laws, compliance and ethics are applied to cyber and military attacks. With military attacks, in theory, there are laws that govern military operations. Nation states cherry pick laws, regulations and ethics to be applied to cyber criminals. Cyber criminals are CRIMINALS. Cyber criminals do not wake up in the morning concerned about whether they have applied a set of ethics to an attack. Cyber criminals are concerned about the effectiveness of their attack.

How is planning for a cyber attack similar to planning a military operation?

Planning for a cyber attack shares several similarities with planning a military operation due to the strategic, tactical, and logistical considerations involved. Here are some key similarities:

  1. Objective Definition: In both cyber attacks and military operations, careful planning begins with defining clear objectives. Whether it’s gaining unauthorized access to a network or capturing a strategic location, the goals must be well-defined and aligned with broader strategic objectives.
  2. Intelligence Gathering: Both cyber attackers and military planners rely on intelligence gathering to assess the target environment, identify vulnerabilities, and gather information about defenses, potential obstacles, and adversary capabilities. This intelligence informs the planning process and helps identify the most effective tactics and techniques to achieve the objectives.
  3. Risk Assessment: Before launching an attack or military operation, planners must conduct a comprehensive risk assessment to evaluate potential threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences. This includes assessing the likelihood of detection, the impact of countermeasures, and potential collateral damage.
  4. Operational Planning: Planning for both cyber attacks and military operations involves developing detailed operational plans that outline the sequence of actions, allocation of resources, assignment of responsibilities, and timelines. These plans account for various contingencies and adapt to changing circumstances during execution.
  5. Coordination and Collaboration: Successful cyber attacks and military operations require effective coordination and collaboration among multiple stakeholders, including technical specialists, analysts, operators, and decision-makers. This coordination ensures that resources are used efficiently, objectives are achieved, and risks are mitigated.
  6. Logistics and Support: Both cyber attacks and military operations rely on logistics and support infrastructure to provide the necessary resources, equipment, and personnel for execution. This includes securing funding, acquiring tools and technology, establishing communication channels, and ensuring operational security.
  7. Execution and Adaptation: During the execution phase, both cyber attackers and military forces must adapt to evolving circumstances, unforeseen obstacles, and adversary responses. This may involve adjusting tactics, reallocating resources, or exploiting new opportunities as they arise.
  8. Post-Operation Analysis: After the operation is completed, planners conduct a thorough post-mortem analysis to evaluate the effectiveness of the plan, identify lessons learned, and identify areas for improvement. This feedback loop informs future planning efforts and enhances organizational learning and resilience.

While there are clear similarities between planning for cyber attacks and military operations, it’s important to note that there are also significant differences, particularly in terms of legal and ethical considerations, rules of engagement, and the potential impact on civilian populations. Additionally, cyber attacks often operate in a global and asymmetric context, posing unique challenges and requiring innovative approaches to defense and deterrence.

How is planning for a cyber attack different to planning a military operation?

Planning a cyber attack differs from planning a military operation in several key ways, primarily due to the nature of cyber warfare, the tools and tactics involved, and the legal and ethical considerations. Here are some key differences:

  1. Physical vs. Virtual Space: Military operations typically involve physical assets, territories, and personnel, whereas cyber attacks occur in the virtual domain of computer networks, systems, and data. This distinction affects the methods of execution, detection, and response.
  2. Attribution Challenges: Attribution in cyber attacks can be notoriously difficult due to the anonymity and obfuscation techniques used by attackers, such as routing attacks through multiple intermediaries or using compromised systems as proxies. This makes it challenging to identify the perpetrators and retaliate effectively.
  3. Global Reach and Asymmetry: Cyber attacks can be launched from anywhere in the world, crossing international borders and jurisdictions with ease. This global reach and asymmetry allow even relatively small actors to inflict significant damage on larger, better-resourced adversaries, posing unique challenges for defense and deterrence.
  4. Low Cost and Scalability: Compared to traditional military operations, cyber attacks often have lower barriers to entry in terms of cost, expertise, and resources. Attackers can leverage readily available tools, exploit known vulnerabilities, and scale their operations rapidly to target multiple victims simultaneously.
  5. Speed and Stealth: Cyber attacks can be executed with high speed and stealth, often leaving little or no physical trace. This enables attackers to penetrate defenses, exfiltrate data, and disrupt operations without alerting defenders until it’s too late. As a result, cyber attackers can achieve their objectives before defenders have a chance to respond effectively.
  6. Dual-Use Technology: The same technology and tools used for legitimate purposes in cyberspace, such as network scanning and penetration testing tools, can also be weaponized by attackers for malicious activities. This blurring of the line between offensive and defensive capabilities complicates efforts to distinguish between legitimate and malicious actors.
  7. Legal and Ethical Considerations: Cyber attacks raise complex legal and ethical questions related to sovereignty, jurisdiction, and the rules of engagement. Unlike traditional military operations, which are governed by established international laws and conventions, the legal framework for cyber warfare is still evolving and subject to interpretation.
  8. Collateral Damage and Escalation Risks: Cyber attacks can have unintended consequences, including collateral damage to innocent bystanders, disruption of critical infrastructure, and escalation of conflicts between nations. The interconnected nature of cyberspace means that an attack targeting one entity could inadvertently impact others in unforeseen ways.

Overall, while there are similarities between planning a cyber attack and planning a military operation, the unique characteristics of cyberspace introduce distinct challenges and considerations that require specialized expertise, tools, and strategies for effective defense and response.

How are ethical considerations different when planning a cyber attack and planning a military operation?

Ethical considerations differ significantly when planning a cyber attack compared to planning a military operation due to the unique nature of cyber warfare, the potential for collateral damage, and the challenges of attribution. Here’s how ethical considerations vary between the two:

  1. Proportionality and Justification: In traditional military operations, ethical considerations often revolve around principles of proportionality and the justification of the use of force. Military planners must weigh the potential harm to civilians and non-combatants against the military necessity of the operation. In cyber attacks, similar ethical considerations apply, but the nature of the harm may be less visible or immediate, making it challenging to assess the proportionality of the response.
  2. Attribution and Accountability: Ethical considerations in cyber attacks are complicated by challenges of attribution and accountability. Unlike traditional military operations where the identity of the attacker is usually known, cyber attacks can be launched anonymously or through intermediaries, making it difficult to attribute responsibility. This ambiguity raises questions of accountability and the ability to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.
  3. Collateral Damage and Unintended Consequences: Cyber attacks can have unintended consequences and collateral damage, including disruption of critical infrastructure, financial loss, and harm to innocent bystanders. Ethical considerations require cyber attackers to minimize the risk of harm to non-combatants and take steps to avoid disproportionate or indiscriminate effects.
  4. Sovereignty and Jurisdiction: Traditional military operations are subject to legal and ethical principles governing sovereignty and jurisdiction, which dictate the circumstances under which force can be used against other nations or entities. In cyber warfare, the borderless nature of cyberspace complicates these principles, raising questions about the legitimacy of cross-border attacks and the sovereignty of states in cyberspace.
  5. Non-State Actors and Proxy Warfare: The rise of non-state actors and proxy warfare in cyberspace blurs the distinction between state-sponsored attacks and those carried out by independent actors or criminal organizations. Ethical considerations must account for the involvement of non-state actors and the potential for proxy conflicts to escalate tensions between states.
  6. Norms of Behavior and International Law: Ethical considerations in cyber warfare are shaped by evolving norms of behavior and international law governing the use of force in cyberspace. States and non-state actors must adhere to established principles of international humanitarian law, such as the Geneva Conventions, and norms of responsible state behavior in cyberspace to minimize harm and preserve stability.
  7. Human Rights and Privacy: Cyber attacks can pose threats to human rights and privacy, including the right to freedom of expression, privacy, and access to information. Ethical considerations require cyber attackers to respect these fundamental rights and avoid actions that infringe upon the rights and freedoms of individuals.

In summary, while ethical considerations are central to both planning a cyber attack and planning a military operation, the unique characteristics of cyberspace, including attribution challenges, collateral damage risks, and the borderless nature of the domain, introduce distinct ethical dilemmas and complexities that require careful consideration and adherence to established norms and principles.

How are legal considerations different when planning a cyber attack and a military attack?

Legal considerations for planning a cyber attack and a military attack differ significantly due to the unique characteristics of cyberspace, the evolving legal frameworks governing cyber warfare, and the challenges of attribution and jurisdiction. Here’s how legal considerations vary between the two:

  1. International Law and Treaties: Traditional military attacks are governed by well-established principles of international law, including the United Nations Charter, which prohibits the use of force against other states except in self-defense or with the authorization of the UN Security Council. In contrast, the legal framework for cyber warfare is still evolving, with few specific treaties or agreements governing the use of cyber weapons.
  2. Sovereignty and Jurisdiction: Traditional military attacks are subject to principles of sovereignty and jurisdiction, which dictate the circumstances under which force can be used against other nations or entities. In cyberspace, the borderless nature of the domain complicates these principles, raising questions about the legitimacy of cross-border attacks and the sovereignty of states in cyberspace.
  3. Attribution Challenges: Cyber attacks pose unique challenges of attribution, making it difficult to identify the perpetrators and hold them accountable under existing legal frameworks. Unlike traditional military attacks where the identity of the attacker is usually known, cyber attacks can be launched anonymously or through intermediaries, complicating efforts to attribute responsibility.
  4. Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC): The Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC), also known as international humanitarian law, governs the conduct of military operations during armed conflict. LOAC principles, such as distinction, proportionality, and necessity, apply to both traditional military attacks and cyber operations. However, applying these principles in cyberspace can be challenging due to the unique characteristics of cyber warfare and the potential for unintended consequences.
  5. Civilian and Non-Combatant Protections: LOAC includes provisions to protect civilians and non-combatants from harm during military operations. In cyberspace, legal considerations must account for the potential impact of cyber attacks on civilian infrastructure, essential services, and human rights, such as the right to privacy and freedom of expression.
  6. State Responsibility and Liability: Under international law, states are responsible for the actions of their agents and entities operating within their territory or under their control. Legal considerations in cyberspace include determining state responsibility for cyber attacks carried out by state-sponsored actors, non-state actors, or proxies, and assessing liability for damages caused by cyber operations.
  7. Cybersecurity and Data Protection Laws: Legal considerations for cyber attacks also include compliance with domestic and international cybersecurity and data protection laws. Cyber attackers must adhere to legal requirements related to data privacy, confidentiality, and security when conducting cyber operations, including obtaining consent for data collection and ensuring the security of personal and sensitive information.

In summary, while both traditional military attacks and cyber attacks are subject to legal constraints and principles, the unique characteristics of cyberspace, including attribution challenges, jurisdictional issues, and the evolving legal frameworks governing cyber warfare, introduce distinct legal considerations and complexities that require careful analysis and adherence to established norms and principles.

What are examples of cyber attackers being bound by ethical and or legal considerations when planning and executing an attack?

Cyber attackers, like any other actors, can be bound by ethical and legal considerations when planning and executing attacks. While many cyber attacks are conducted by malicious actors who disregard ethical and legal constraints, there are instances where attackers may be influenced by these factors. Here are some examples:

  1. State-Sponsored Cyber Operations: Nation-states engaging in cyber operations are bound by international law and diplomatic agreements governing the use of force and the conduct of warfare. While state-sponsored cyber attacks may occur, they are typically subject to legal and political considerations, including the risk of retaliation, diplomatic fallout, and reputational damage.
  2. Corporate Espionage and Intellectual Property Theft: Cyber attacks targeting companies for corporate espionage or intellectual property theft may be subject to legal repercussions under domestic and international laws governing intellectual property rights, trade secrets, and corporate espionage. Perpetrators could face civil and criminal penalties for unauthorized access to proprietary information or trade secrets.
  3. Hacktivism and Activist Groups: Hacktivist groups engaging in cyber attacks for political or social causes may be influenced by ethical considerations related to their ideological beliefs and principles. While their actions may be motivated by a desire to promote a particular cause, they may still be subject to legal consequences for unauthorized access, data breaches, and disruption of services.
  4. Cybersecurity Research and Vulnerability Disclosure: Ethical hackers and cybersecurity researchers conducting penetration testing or vulnerability assessments are bound by ethical guidelines and legal frameworks governing responsible disclosure. They must adhere to ethical principles such as obtaining consent, minimizing harm, and acting in the public interest. Failure to do so could result in legal liability for unauthorized access or damage to systems.
  5. Non-Profit Organizations and NGOs: Non-profit organizations and NGOs engaged in cybersecurity initiatives or advocacy efforts may be guided by ethical considerations related to their mission and values. They may prioritize activities that promote cybersecurity awareness, capacity-building, and protection of human rights online, while adhering to legal requirements and international norms governing their operations.
  6. Professional Codes of Conduct: Cybersecurity professionals, including penetration testers, incident responders, and forensic analysts, are bound by professional codes of conduct and ethical guidelines established by industry organizations and certification bodies. They must uphold ethical standards such as integrity, confidentiality, and respect for privacy in their work, while complying with legal obligations related to data protection and security.

While cyber attackers may be influenced by ethical and legal considerations to varying degrees, it’s important to recognize that malicious actors often operate outside the bounds of legality and morality, seeking to exploit vulnerabilities for personal gain, political motives, or malicious intent. As such, combating cyber threats requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses technical vulnerabilities, legal frameworks, and ethical principles to promote cybersecurity and protect against malicious activities in cyberspace.

Since a cyber attacker is a criminal why is there any thought that cyber criminals factor in ethical and legal requirements into their attack plans?

You’re correct in pointing out that cyber criminals, by definition, engage in illegal activities, often with little regard for ethical or legal constraints. However, it’s essential to understand that the consideration of ethical and legal factors in the context of cyber attacks doesn’t imply that attackers are acting ethically or within the bounds of the law. Instead, it acknowledges the broader legal and ethical landscape that may influence the behavior of cyber criminals, albeit to varying degrees.

Here’s why there might be some thought or acknowledgment of ethical and legal requirements, even by cyber criminals:

  1. Risk Management: While cyber criminals may operate outside the law, they often assess and manage risks associated with their activities. This can include factors such as the likelihood of detection, the severity of potential legal consequences, and the impact on their operational security. In some cases, attackers may modify their tactics or targets to minimize exposure to law enforcement or other threats.
  2. Reputation and Image: Some cyber criminal groups may have reputational concerns within their underground communities. Engaging in particularly egregious or unethical behavior could damage their standing or credibility among other criminals, potentially leading to ostracization or retaliation. Therefore, maintaining a certain level of professionalism or discretion may be seen as advantageous.
  3. Escalation and Retaliation: Cyber attacks can have unintended consequences, including retaliation from law enforcement, counter-attacks from other threat actors, or damage to critical infrastructure. Cyber criminals may consider the potential escalation of conflicts or retaliation from targeted entities when planning their activities, seeking to avoid outcomes that could jeopardize their operations or safety.
  4. Legal Aspects of Their Operations: While cyber criminals may operate outside the law, they still need to navigate legal aspects of their operations, such as money laundering, fraud, and identity theft. In some cases, attackers may take steps to conceal their identities, obfuscate their activities, or exploit legal loopholes to avoid detection or prosecution. However, these actions are typically driven by a desire to evade law enforcement rather than comply with legal requirements.
  5. Impact on Underground Markets: Cyber criminals often operate within underground markets where trust and reputation play crucial roles. Engaging in unethical or disruptive behavior could harm relationships with other actors, affect the viability of underground markets, or attract unwanted attention from law enforcement. Therefore, some degree of adherence to informal rules or norms within these communities may be observed.

In summary, while cyber criminals operate outside the bounds of legality and morality, they may still consider ethical and legal factors in their decision-making processes, albeit in a self-serving manner. However, these considerations are typically secondary to their primary objectives of financial gain, disruption, or other malicious motives.

How is the application of ethics enforced by nation states?

The application of ethics, particularly in the context of cybersecurity and cyber operations, is enforced by nation-states through a combination of legal frameworks, regulatory measures, international agreements, and diplomatic efforts. Here’s how nation-states enforce ethical standards in cybersecurity:

  1. Legislation and Regulation: Nation-states enact laws and regulations that govern cybersecurity practices, data protection, privacy rights, and the use of technology. These laws establish legal requirements for organizations and individuals operating within their jurisdictions, defining acceptable behaviors, responsibilities, and consequences for non-compliance. Examples include data protection laws like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the United States.
  2. Law Enforcement and Judicial Systems: Nation-states employ law enforcement agencies and judicial systems to investigate and prosecute cyber crimes, enforce cybersecurity laws, and hold individuals and organizations accountable for unethical or illegal activities. Specialized cybercrime units and task forces are responsible for identifying, apprehending, and prosecuting cyber criminals, while courts adjudicate cases and impose penalties on offenders.
  3. Regulatory Authorities: Regulatory authorities, such as government agencies or independent bodies, oversee compliance with cybersecurity regulations, industry standards, and best practices. These authorities may conduct audits, inspections, and enforcement actions to ensure that organizations adhere to ethical standards and maintain adequate cybersecurity measures. They may also issue guidelines, advisories, and recommendations to promote cybersecurity awareness and improve resilience.
  4. International Cooperation and Agreements: Nation-states engage in international cooperation and diplomacy to address cybersecurity challenges collectively and promote ethical behavior in cyberspace. This includes participating in international forums, conferences, and initiatives aimed at developing norms of responsible state behavior, enhancing cybersecurity capacity-building, and combating cyber threats. Bilateral and multilateral agreements establish rules, norms, and mechanisms for cooperation, information sharing, and mutual assistance in responding to cyber incidents.
  5. Deterrence and Response Strategies: Nation-states employ deterrence and response strategies to discourage malicious behavior in cyberspace and mitigate the impact of cyber attacks. This includes maintaining robust cyber defenses, conducting threat assessments, developing offensive cyber capabilities for deterrence purposes, and establishing incident response mechanisms to coordinate responses to cyber incidents. Nations may also publicly attribute cyber attacks to hold perpetrators accountable and deter future attacks.
  6. Public Awareness and Education: Nation-states invest in public awareness campaigns and educational initiatives to promote cybersecurity awareness, digital literacy, and responsible online behavior among citizens, businesses, and organizations. These efforts aim to empower individuals with the knowledge and skills needed to protect themselves against cyber threats and contribute to a safer and more secure cyberspace.

Overall, the enforcement of ethics in cybersecurity by nation-states involves a multi-faceted approach that combines legal, regulatory, law enforcement, diplomatic, and educational measures to promote responsible behavior, protect critical infrastructure, and safeguard the rights and interests of individuals and society in cyberspace.

Why is it that the enforcement of laws and ethics is very often against the individual and small groups and not large organizations and nation states?

The enforcement of laws and ethics against individuals and small groups, rather than large organizations and nation-states, can be attributed to several factors:

  1. Resource Disparities: Large organizations and nation-states often have significant financial resources, legal expertise, and political influence that enable them to defend against legal challenges, negotiate favorable settlements, or mitigate the consequences of unethical behavior. In contrast, individuals and small groups may lack the resources to mount a robust defense or navigate complex legal proceedings effectively.
  2. Legal Protections and Immunities: Large organizations and nation-states may benefit from legal protections, immunities, or sovereign immunity that shield them from certain legal liabilities or limit the scope of enforcement actions against them. For example, sovereign immunity may prevent foreign governments from being sued in domestic courts, while legal protections for corporations may limit liability for the actions of individual employees or executives.
  3. Jurisdictional Challenges: Enforcing laws and ethics against large organizations and nation-states can be complicated by jurisdictional challenges, particularly in cases involving cross-border activities or international law. Determining which jurisdiction has authority to prosecute or regulate the conduct of multinational corporations or sovereign states can be challenging, leading to legal ambiguities or enforcement gaps.
  4. Political Considerations: The enforcement of laws and ethics against large organizations and nation-states can be influenced by political considerations, diplomatic relations, and geopolitical dynamics. Governments may be reluctant to hold powerful entities accountable for fear of economic repercussions, diplomatic tensions, or political backlash. As a result, enforcement actions against large organizations and nation-states may be subject to political interference or manipulation.
  5. Complexity and Scale of Operations: Large organizations and nation-states often have complex and diversified operations spanning multiple industries, sectors, and jurisdictions, making it challenging to investigate and prosecute allegations of wrongdoing comprehensively. The scale and sophistication of their activities may also pose logistical and evidentiary challenges for law enforcement agencies and regulatory authorities.
  6. Regulatory Capture and Influence: Large organizations and nation-states may exert influence over regulatory agencies, legislative bodies, and enforcement authorities through lobbying, campaign contributions, and other forms of political influence. This “regulatory capture” can undermine the independence and effectiveness of regulatory oversight, leading to leniency or preferential treatment for powerful actors.
  7. Legal Precedents and Precedent-Setting Cases: High-profile legal cases involving large organizations and nation-states can set legal precedents and influence future enforcement actions and judicial decisions. Governments and regulatory agencies may prioritize cases with broader implications or greater public visibility, while smaller-scale violations or individual misconduct may receive less attention or enforcement priority.

Overall, while laws and ethics apply to individuals, organizations, and nation-states alike, the enforcement landscape is often shaped by factors such as resource disparities, legal protections, jurisdictional challenges, political considerations, and regulatory dynamics, which can contribute to disparities in enforcement outcomes and accountability. Efforts to address these disparities may involve reforms to strengthen regulatory oversight, enhance transparency and accountability, and promote international cooperation in enforcing ethical standards and upholding the rule of law.

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