Table of Contents

Research Handbook on International Law and Cyberspace

Research Handbook on International Law and Cyberspace

Research Handbooks in International Law series

Edited by Nicholas Tsagourias and Russell Buchan

This timely Research Handbook contains an analysis of various legal questions concerning cyberspace and cyber activities and provides a critical account of their effectiveness. Expert contributors examine the application of fundamental international law principles to cyberspace such as sovereignty, jurisdiction, state responsibility, individual criminal responsibility, and intellectual property rights. In addition to this, they explore the application of international law rules to cyber terrorism, cyber espionage, cyber crime, cyber attacks and cyber war and discuss the cyber security policies of international and regional institutions.

Chapter 11: Cyber operations as a use of force

Marco Roscini

Subjects: law - academic, internet and technology law, public international law, regulation and governance, terrorism and security law


The provisions on the use of force contained in the UN Charter apply to cyber operations conducted by states against other states even though the rules were adopted well before the advent of cyber technologies. This chapter argues that a cyber operation is a use of armed force when it entails the use of a ‘weapon’ accompanied by a coercive intention. This occurs not only in the case of cyber attacks designed to cause physical damage to property, loss of life or injury of persons, but also of cyber attacks employing capabilities that render ineffective or unusable critical infrastructures so to cause significant disruption of essential services, even when they do not materially damage those infrastructures. Indeed, the increasing digitalization of today’s societies has made it possible to cause considerable harm to states through non-destructive means: physical infrastructures can be incapacitated by affecting their operating systems, with consequent disruption of services but without the need to destroy them. An evolutive interpretation of Article 2(4) should take this into account. On the other hand, cyber exploitation carried out to collect information may be a violation of the sovereignty of the targeted state when it entails an unauthorized intrusion into the cyber infrastructure located on its territory, but not intervention and even less a use of force, as it lacks the coercive element and does not involve the use of a destructive payload capable of resulting in physical damage to property, loss of life, injury of persons, or malfunction of infrastructure.

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