Most actions currently undertaken by influential states fall within the scope of what we describe above as the information conflict. In peacetime, countries build up their cyber security and try to infiltrate the digital systems of other countries as secretely as possible. Russia is also actively spreading disinformation. That is a strategy that other autocratic countries do not yet appear to employ on a large scale, at least not in relation to other countries, but it fits in seamlessly with their desire to control, censor and manipulate the information that reaches their populations. There are also a number of examples of serious cyber sabotage, such as Operation Olympic Games, which has been attributed to Israel and the United States, and the WannaCry attack, which has been attributed to North Korea. Up to now, cyber attacks have never instigated a cyber-physical war; in that respect, there is no ‘cyber war’. However, cyber weapons are increasingly an element of warfare, as can be clearly seen from the conflict in Ukraine.
The continuing information conflict creates a need for international diplomacy and agreements. In this report, we therefore review the cooperation that exists in this field. In various international and regional bodies states are trying to take steps to create a safe and free digital world.
Although there has been some success at the regional level, especially within the EU, states have not yet succeeded in making binding global agreements on cyber attacks. That does not mean there are no rules governing cyber attacks, but because these attacks seldom exceed the threshold of an ‘armed attack’ which activates international humanitarian law, there are only general principles, such as the prohibition of the use of force. And at present those principles are open to various interpretations.
Preferred citation: Hamer, J., R. van Est, L. Royakkers, with the assistance of N. Alberts (2019). Cyberspace without conflict – The search for de-escalation of the international information conflict. The Hague: Rathenau Instituut