Electronic Warfare

Ministry of Defence written question – answered on 23rd May 2016.

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Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what his Department's definition is of a cyber act of war.

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Minister of State (Ministry of Defence) (Minister for the Armed Forces)

There is no set definition for an act of war, cyber or otherwise.

An "act of war" and "armed conflict" are not defined within the Geneva Conventions. It is a matter of interpretation as to whether the threshold (within the context of surrounding circumstances) between a skirmish and a state of armed conflict has been crossed. Most cyber activity is criminal in nature. A key requirement to determining if there is an armed conflict taking place would be the deliberate intervention of members of a state's armed forces.

In determining if 'cyber' activity constitutes an armed attack, the UK view is that cyber-attacks can be considered as armed attacks if their consequences are essentially the same as those of a conventional kinetic attack. For example, theft of intellectual property would generally be considered to be a criminal act. However, if cyber-activity was performed on a scale which had sufficiently serious consequences for a developed economy, many States - including the UK - would likely regard this as an "armed attack".

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