“The collective result of these kinds of (cyber) attacks could be a cyber Pearl Harbor; an attack that would cause physical destruction and the loss of life. In fact, it would paralyze and shock the nation.” – Leon Panetta
During a recent speech to university students, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei urged the country’s students to prepare for cyberwar, the semi-official Mehr News Agency reported last Wednesday. Calling the students “cyberwar agents” he reminded them of their special role in this particular kind of war and that Tehran is prepared for a cyber battle against the United States and Israel. Ayatollah Khamenei’s remarks are believed to be a response to Israel’s Major General Aviv Kochavi, who went on record as saying, “cyber, in my modest opinion, will soon be revealed to be the biggest revolution in warfare, more than gunpowder and the utilization of air power in the last century.” These remarks are a powerful reminder of the uncertainty of future international cyberwarfare and how unregulated it is.
Over the past decade, the United States and Iran have changed the definition of traditional warfare giving the international community a glimpse into what future wars will look like. In the past decade, both countries have extensively built up their cyber arsenals launching sophisticated assaults on each other’s computer networks, banks and sensitive infrastructure. It could be argued that the United States has been more successful but Iran is catching up. It is clear that when these cyberattacks do grow in escalation they may potentially have a serious humanitarian impact. Yet, international law has not been absent in addressing the cyberwar domain. For many, cyberwar and cybersecurity is seen as still the ‘stuff’ you see in summer blockbusters and not for what it really is: serious, perplexing and scary.