nets are arrays of compromised computers connected to the Internet that are remotely controlled by the attacker. The attack value of a botnet arises from the sheer number of computers that an attacker can control—often tens or hundreds of thousands and perhaps as many as a million. Since all of these computers are under one party’s control, the botnet can act as a powerful amplifier of an attacker’s actions. Although botnets are known to be well suited to certain denial-of-service attacks, their full range of possible utility has not yet been examined.

3.3.3 Ethical, Legal, and Societal Questions and Implications28

The use of cyber weapons in conflict as a deliberate instrument of national policy raises a variety of ethical, legal, and societal issues.

International Law

Although the United States has stated its view that the law of armed conflict applies to cyberspace,29 this view has not been explicitly endorsed by all of the signers of the Geneva and Hague Conventions or the UN Charter. In addition, cyber warfare raises a variety of questions about how to interpret LOAC in any given scenario involving the use of cyber weapons.30 Moreover, even if LOAC does not apply in any given scenario, the principles underlying LOAC may still be relevant to the ethics of using cyber weapons in that scenario.

For example, the laws of war address the circumstances under which the use of force can be legally justified (also known as jus ad bellum and further discussed in Chapter 4). Some of the underlying principles include the following:

Assignment of responsibility for a hostile act to the appropriate nation. In a cyber context, it may be difficult to ascertain the identity of the responsible nation. In some (perhaps many) cases, a hostile cyber operation


28 See, for example, Patrick Lin, “Robots, Ethics, & War,” Center for Internet Society at Stanford Law School, December 15, 2012, available at

29 “International Law in Cyberspace,” remarks of Harold Hongju Koh, legal advisor of the U.S. Department of State, to the USCYBERCOM Inter-Agency Legal Conference, Ft. Meade, Md., September 18, 2012, available at

30 The most comprehensive source on this topic is Michael Schmitt (ed.), Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare, available at

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