Cyber Space and its Militarization

DQI Bureau
New Update

Globally, cyber security is seen as a critical element of the national security apparatus by nations. The reasons are proliferation of advance and sophisticated cyber attacks, cyber threats with political and social effects, increase in cyber espionages, developments of cyber weapons and its usage for military purposes, attacks against nations by non-state actors, cyber terrorists, hackers etc.


The assets which are under attack are economic plans, defence plans, nuclear codes, energy resource information, political designs, law enforcement details, nation's cyber space.

Cyber security is now elevated to the pedestal of national security; this development is invoking it in the enemy's eyes. The problem for the cyber space experts is that the enemy is unidentified and difficult to track due to dynamic characteristics of cyber space i.e. attribution is difficult in cyber space; so it becomes difficult to hold the perpetrators accountable.

This is leading to development of tensions in international security ecosystem and misperceptions within trust model of cyber space. The nations respond to these tensions with deployment of appropriate safeguards to secure its cyber space; one of them is cyber space militarization.


There was a time when defence forces of nations used to destroy tanks, artillery, each others prominent infrastructure and public services with the help of land, sea and air power. Time is changing so does the elements to be attacked during war and methods of warfare which are now aimed to cripple the newest element i.e. cyber space. Instances supporting this are US bombing of Iraqi air-defence radars, China forcing US fighter aircraft to land in their territory -‘World Wide Web War I', , Estonian cyberspace crippled, Israeli cyber attack on Syria, Georgia losing control on ‘.ge' domain, US compromises Iraqi "closed-loop" private-secure networks and many more.

These instances also acted as catalyst for the militarization of cyber space. Globally, there is a strong belief in various nations' perceptions that in future, cyber dimension is going to play an important character in internal and external conflicts. Experts are already calling it "The Fifth Domain for Warfare".

Militarization of cyber space is not a new phenomenon; nations are adopting this as a safeguard for more than a decade now. It is defined as giving military character to cyber space i.e. usage of defence establishments to protect it and at the same time adapt it for defence use. Developed nations such as USA and UK are believed to have taken steps in this direction.


There are instances which are reported in the media such as role of Department of Defence (DoD) in USA to establish the cyber command in 1998, Stuxnet - US and Israeli program to target Iranian systems to sabotage its nuclear program, USA National Security Advisor (NSA) office classifying its defence information as classifieds and linking it to national security goal and UK elevating Government Communications & Headquarters (GCHQ) which is a military intelligence department to protect cyber space, MI6 & MI7 intelligence unit of GCHQ is believed to recruit hackers .

Developing nations such as China & Russia are also not far behind; there are indicators from various media reports such as great firewall of china, multi-organizational network collaboration between Chinese military and civilian hackers, Chinese government control on its Internet, and establishment of Unit 61398 within People Liberation Army in China. Russians government setting up Federal Information and Telecommunication System (FITS) - it is a set of hardware and software which is not connected to internet, usage of cyberspace by Russia in a war against Georgia.

In totality approximately 33 countries include cyber warfare & cyber space militarization in their defence planning and organization. As per a recent study by the United Nation (UN) Institute for Disarmament Research; 40 states have developed some military cyber capabilities, 12 of them for offensive cyber warfare.


In terms of UN initiatives, it took a big leap towards shaping a much needed international framework for legitimate and prosperous activities in cyberspace. The UN also offers certain tools such as disarmament guidelines for its member base which is applicable in case of cyber space also and harmonized cyber threat intelligence sharing models but which are not mandatory to adopt. One of the objectives of these tools is to prevent militarization of cyber space.

UN has always emerged as a first place for debating and solving issues attached with cyber space; contrary to this there is no consensus among member states of the UN on developing cyber norms & in its implementation to build cyber peace and prohibit or limit the usage of cyber weapons during conflicts.

The current approaches followed in militarization of cyberspace by nations includes elements such as celebration/steps on how/ to use cyber-technologies during wars, development of cyber threats with multiple payloads, application of armed-conflicts conditions from its military law to curb cyber war phenomena and inclusion of military as a primary institution to respond against cyber security challenges; leading to changes in public policy of various nations and keeping a parallel vision of maintaining their neutrality towards cyber space militarization.

The biggest challenge is with development of cyber security policies. This means policies which can balance and include debatable areas such as mass surveillance, cyber space nationalization, interests of private sector. It is a dilemma for all policy makers because the end goal of a of cyber security policy is/should be to reduce overall risks.


The way forward to secure cyber space and achieve cyber peace can include; concerted global effort to build a cyber peace agenda, planning by nations for the worst case scenarios which would secure the national cyber security apparatus, government taking a lead role in protecting critical infrastructure and at the same time enabling the private sector and market forces to improve the security and resiliency of cyber networks owned by them. Other elements of action plan could be nations to be prepared on areas such as threats intelligence, defensive and offensive capabilities, defence doctrines, proactive public policy developments and its implementation with respect to cyber space.

At the same time there are unsolved problems confronted by nations which are ‘to understand elements of cyber war, formulation of strong legal instruments, promote the message of limited or no use of cyber arsenal during conflicts , understanding the content of self-defence in cyber space , defining accountability and state responsibility etc'.

If nations decide to project power using cyber space then it may become difficult to operate in the cyber space and utilize it as a global common in order to deliver public benefits on it. The choice may decide the future of cyber space.