War is a traditional component of international security studies. Due to advances in technology, cyberwarfare – digital attacks meant to inflict damage in the physical world – are increasingly common.[1] Ranging from the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) to the oft-cited case of STUXNET (an American cyber weapon that targets hardware), the precedent has been set by actors in the international realm to carry out cyberwarfare, and military tactics and policies have had to adapt to combat this threat.[2]

In the traditional sense, war inflicts harm, death, or conflict between groups. However, it is difficult to compare cyberwarfare to traditional warfare as cyberweapons and warfare have many contrasts to conventional weapons systems or uses. Most cyberweapons are decentralized (such as botnets), require less human-power, and it can be difficult to ascertain where cyberattacks come from.[3] For example, cyberattacks or hacking can be masked as if they came from different origin countries, leading to tensions in international relations.[4] In response, militaries, and private and public sectors around the world have developed their own cyber attack and defense centers and strategies to combat this growing threat and create policy guidelines.[5]

This is a new and very unique realm of warfare where much remains unclear. The term cyberwarfare itself is an ambiguous term, at best, and in need of clear definition and global consensus on what it truly means and what actions should be taken in response to cyberattacks.[6] Regardless of the nuances and lack of global consensus or law on cyberwarfare, cyberspace has been referred to as the ‘fifth battleground’, with the other four being air, land, water, and space, and we can rest assured it is here to stay.[7] Technology is undeniably contributing to advances in all realms of warfare, and cyber, or digital, attacks are increasingly used as a method for nations, militaries, or non-state actors to advance conflict.[8]

Note from the Team

As noted in Unit 1, cyber capabilities and new technologies have levelled the playing field of security in a new way. One of the questions that arose when diving into the world of cyberwarfare was how is cybersecurity changing what the field of traditional security looks like? With the internet as a medium of conflict, new actors and their goals are harder to define and they aren’t as restricted by resources as they might be in more traditional warfare. Additionally, cyber and new technologies are altering how traditional militaries fight. New technologies with internet capabilities, like drones and UAVs, are emerging onto the battlefield and merging with more traditional ballistic weapons, transforming fighting. These changes are deeply impactful of warfare on all levels including analysis.

Questions for Critical Thinking

  1. What are the implications of the sometimes depersonalized nature of cyber-relations and therefore cyberwarfare?
  2. Do cyberattacks warrant a physical warfare type of response? How does cyberwar fit into the law of armed conflict?
  3. Is a cyber attack a form of cyber warfare, or a tool used in broader warfare practices?
    1. Follow-up Question: Do you think Cyberwar is possible? If so, what would that look like?
  4. How can we define cyberwar for a global audience?
  5. What would be the difference if more women were involved in cyberwarfare? What roles do women play in conflict that are being transformed by cybertech? Are cyber-focused roles more accessible to women than traditional military and combat roles?
  6. How can a gender perspective be applied successfully to cyberwarfare tactics?

Questions for Further Research: Gender Component

With the advent of a new type of warfare, it is not unexpected, given traditional warfare’s historical exclusion of women, that the cyberwarfare realm is exclusionary as well.[1] This is due to the general lack of gender balance and gender analysis in the cybersecurity field,[2] compounded with the general history of exclusion of women and rejection of gendered analysis in military matters and in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).[3] However, while there is a research gap between gender analysis and cyberwarfare,[4] more has been done to integrate gender balance in the field, in much the same way as in the cybersecurity field more broadly.

The cyberwarfare realm is a unique area that brings together distinct theories and practices such as: gender and war, gender and technology, cyber and war, and traditional vs. contemporary security analysis.[5] There is ample room for improvement in the gender and cyberwarfare realm, both in workforce diversity and in diverse understanding of cyberwarfare with a gendered lens.[6]

It is necessary to implement a critical gendered lens in cyberwarfare now, as this relatively new area of security and warfare is beginning to evolve and take shape. Incorporating a gender perspective in cyberwarfare analysis and practice, as well as incorporating gender balance in the field, will lead to a more substantive understanding and stronger practices in the years to come.


  1. Rules of engagement
    1. “orders that soldiers fighting in a war are given about what they can and cannot do”
  2. Cyberwar
    1. “Cyber warfare involves the actions by a nation-state or international organization to attack and attempt to damage another nation’s computers or information networks through, for example, computer viruses or denial-of-service attacks.”
  3. Cyberweapon
    1. The conceptualization of “cyberweapons” draws from the conceptualization of a weapon. It is anything intended to cause harm, but unlike traditional weaponry, cyberweapons are doing using hard and software.
    1. Stuxnet is a computer worm. Originally, Stuxnet was designed to be used as an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Since then, however, Stuxnet has grown to be included in other energy facilities and programs. Stuxnet is a form of malware that attacks actual hardware.
  5. IP address
    1. “An internet version of a home address for your computer, which is identified when it communicates over a network; For example, connecting to the internet (a network of networks).”
  6. Server
    1. “A server is a computer that provides data to other computers. It may serve data to systems on a local area network (LAN) or a wide area network (WAN) over the Internet.”
  7. Human security
    1. “Human security is an approach to assist Member States in identifying and addressing widespread and cross-cutting challenges to the survival, livelihood and dignity of their people.” It calls for “people-centred, comprehensive, context-specific and prevention-oriented responses that strengthen the protection and empowerment of all people.”
  8. Virus/bug
    1. “A computer virus is a type of malware that propagates by inserting a copy of itself into and becoming part of another program. It spreads from one computer to another, leaving infections as it travels. Viruses can range in severity from causing mildly annoying effects to damaging data or software and causing denial-of-service (DoS) conditions”
  9. Virtual reality
    1. “An artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (such as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment”
  10. Drone, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)
    1. “An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is an aircraft that carries no human pilot or passengers. UAVs — sometimes called “drones” — can be fully or partially autonomous but are more often controlled remotely by a human pilot.”
  11. Unmanned warfare
    1. Warfare conducted through the use of drones and/or autonomous weapons/machinery. 
  12. Generations of warfare
    1. The concept of generations of warfare refers to the changing nature of war. This concept highlights both ideology and technology as drivers for change.
  13. Distributed Denial of Services (DDOS)
    1. DDOS refers to a cyber attack. The goal of this attack is to try and make the intended product or service unable to the user. This type of attack disrupts the connection between the user and the host
  14. Cyber Espionage
    1. Cyber Espionage refers to the process of obtaining private information through means such as hacking or other technical means.
  15. Sabotage
    1. “Sabotage is defined as deliberate and malicious acts that result in the disruption of the normal processes and functions or the destruction or damage of equipment or information.”
  16. Disinformation
    1. “False information, as about a country’s military strength or plans, disseminated by a government or intelligence agency in a hostile act of tactical political subversion”
  17. Misinformation
    1. Wrong or misleading information, not intended as a hostile act. 
  18. Attribution Problem
    1. Cyber attribution problems refer to the inability to determine who is executing a cyber attack or even its origins.
  19. Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and high yield Explosives
    1. CBRNE are weapons that typically cause a great deal of damage, both bodily harm and a disruption in society.