International law in cyberspace matters: this is how and why

 In

by Dr François Delerue

What can a government do if its transportation system, energy grid or another critical infrastructure system is disabled for an extended time due to a cyberattack, causing disruptions, economic losses and, potentially, human casualties? Is a military response justified or would it constitute a violation of international law? These and many other questions about if and how existing international law applies to cyberspace have preoccupied legal advisors and scholars. While specific answers always need to be provided on a case-by-case basis following a thorough legal analysis, there are a number of standard steps that are involved in the process of applying international law to a cyber operation, from the determination of who may be behind it to the adoption of unilateral measures aimed at the responsible party.