Deterrence and the Ethics of Cyber Conflict

  • Paul CornishEmail author
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series book series (PSSP, volume 124)


The notion that the resort to and conduct of conflict can, and should be constrained on ethical grounds is well understood. Why then is it proving difficult to apply that understanding to cyber space? In the first place, it is as yet unclear how we might define ‘conflict’, ‘violence’ and ‘aggression’ in cyber space; what the ‘cyber domain’ might be; and what it might be to be secure within or from that domain. Do we apply existing understandings and simply prefix them with ‘cyber’, or is there something qualitatively different about cyber security and the conduct it permits or requires?

Then there is a far deeper, more structural problem with which to contend. The ethical problem with cyber space is that it is an artificial environment offering both co-operation on the one hand, and contention and confrontation on the other. And it is difficult to know the identifiers of good and bad behaviour at any given moment. Cyberspace is stubbornly pre-political, pre-strategic and therefore pre-ethical; it is not yet susceptible to the forms of political and strategic organisation with which we are familiar and is thus resistant to the normative constraints with which we have expected to manage and moderate conflict and organised violence.

Cyber security must be conceptualised as an arena for human exchange in which diplomacy, negotiation, bargaining, compromise, concession and the exercise of moral judgement are not only considered proper but are also made possible. This chapter argues that deterrence thinking can assist in this process.


Cyber conflict Ethics Aggression Anonymity Deniability Just war tradtion Law of war Harm Intention Discrimination Trust Deterrence 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Global Cyber Security Capacity CentreOxfordUK

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