Mapping the Societal Risks and Potential Humanitarian Impact of Cyber Operations

Our new Working Paper Societal Risks and Potential Humanitarian Impact of Cyber Operations provides an up-to-date assessment of existing risks and protection needs in light of contemporary and future military cyber capabilities.

Based on two expert workshops and four other consultations with individual experts – held between February and May 2021 – it addresses the following three overarching questions:

  • What risks, potential humanitarian consequences, and protection needs for conflict-affected populations arise on the digital battlefield?
  • Does international law, in particular international humanitarian law (IHL), adequately address these risks and protection needs?
  • If not, what recommendations could be developed in terms of law and policy beyond the existing IHL framework to mitigate these risks and address these protection needs?

‘The expert consultation sought to gain insights from cybersecurity experts from different disciplines and with different backgrounds concerning the current developments of technological, political, and societal trends in the global cybersecurity landscape’ explains Professor Marco Roscini, Swiss IHL Chair at the Geneva Academy.

Trends in Current Cyber Operations and Vulnerabilities

Written by Pia Hüsch and Henning Lahmann, the report details in five distinct parts the actors involved in adversarial cyber operations, the methods they use, their objectives, on what the vulnerabilities of the targets depends, and what can be done to strengthen these targets’ resilience against cyber harm.

A sixth concluding part briefly touches upon some of the legal issues raised during the workshops and consultations that merit more in-depth consideration.

‘The main takeaways are that the different actors have become significantly more sophisticated in their attacks, using ever-more intricate methods – often in combination (e.g. a ransomware attack followed by an information operation). It has become more frequent to target entire societies, which is partly a function of increasing vulnerabilities especially in sectors where the digital transformation has been happening too quickly’ explains Henning Lahmann.

Man before two computer screens with code

Laying the Ground for Future Research on Conflict Digitalization

The consultations and this resulting paper lay the factual groundwork for the remainder of our joint initiative with the International Committee of the Red Cross on the digitalization of conflict.

‘We can only conduct an informed legal analysis – as the basis for possible recommendations as to a possible further development of the law – with adequate expert knowledge on recent developments in the global cybersecurity landscape’ underlines Professor Roscini.

‘This paper therefore provides an adequate starting point for our research with the ICRC that addresses one of the most pressing challenges in the law of armed conflict today’ he adds.

MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

Dr Erica Harper in front of Villa Moynier News

Erica Harper Joins the Geneva Academy as Head of Research and Policy Studies

29 August 2022

The Geneva Academy is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr Erica Harper as its new Head of Research and Policy Studies. Dr Harper succeeds Felix Kirchmeier who remains the Executive Director of the Geneva Human Rights Platform.

Read more

Portrait of Marco Roscini News

Professor Marco Roscini is our New IHL Chair

6 May 2022

Marco Roscini is a leading expert in international law of armed conflict, the use of force in international law, and international cyber security law and has published widely in the field of international security law.

Read more

Persons walking in front of a blue wall Event

Strike While It's Hot: Protecting and Advancing Human Rights Online

4 October 2022, 13:15-14:45

This side event at the margins of the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council will discuss areas of progress as well as critical gaps in the international affirmation and protection of human rights in the digital age.

Read more

The International Court of Justice in session Short Course

Sources of Public International Law

26 October - 13 December 2022

This online short course dwells on the means of international law-making (treaties, customary international law, unilateral acts, general principles of law etc.). In other words, the course looks at the sources from which public international law rules stem and at the entities that are empowered with the capacity of law-making in the international legal order.

Read more

Short Course

The Law of Non-International Armed Conflicts

16 March - 4 April 2023

This online short course discusses the protection offered by international humanitarian law (IHL) in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) and addresses some problems and controversies specific to IHL of NIACs, including the difficulty to ensure the respect of IHL by armed non-state actors.

Read more

Computer screen with warning: civilian infrastucture: do not attack Project

Digitalization of Conflict Joint Initiative: Humanitarian Impact and Legal Protection

Started in September 2020

This project will explore humanitarian consequences and protection needs caused by the digitalization of armed conflicts and the extent to which these needs are addressed by international law, especially international humanitarian law.

Read more

On the screen, on the screen is Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), briefing the Security Council on the 70th Anniversary of Geneva Conventions. Project

International Humanitarian Law and the United Nations Security Council

Completed in January 2020

Read more

Cover of the Publication Publication

The Future Digital Battlefield and Challenges for Humanitarian Protection: A Primer

published on April 2022

Henning Lahmann

Read more