Warm Worms
June 21, 2012 7:18 PM   Subscribe

The US and Israel, according to all accounts, are behind the Stuxnet and Flame worms. Does the creation and deployment of these cyber espionage worms violate any treaties or international law? Does the creation and deployment of these worms violate any existing domestic law?

Not much more to add here. Just curious about whether there are laws, either domestic or UN sanctioned, that govern this kind of behavior, and whether this action is illegal under any of them.
posted by to sir with millipedes to Law & Government (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Computer crimes commited on US-based computers are punishable by US law, even if the crime is committed abroad. But then governments have to agree to hand over a suspect. There is the case of the LulzSec hacker from the UK who appears to have avoided extradition by the UK to the US for allegedly cracking CIA computers, for example.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:47 PM on June 21, 2012

Does the creation and deployment of these cyber espionage worms violate any treaties or international law?

My understanding is that whether it does or it doesn't is really a matter of foreign policy, but our (US) own gov't has gone on record saying that cyber attacks are indeed (Panetta weasels "could be") acts of war.

There has been some discussion about treaties.
posted by rhizome at 9:00 PM on June 21, 2012

"All accounts" implies that there would be an explicit admission of involvement by either government. Yes, actors can drop subtle comments about being involved in one thing or another. Yet, not definitely admitting agency allows a certain amount of plausible deniability, to the public, and in the eyes of the law. Anything that's come out about Stuxnet and Flame is pure fishing, and will probably remain so for years.

The thing with unacknowledged operations is that they allow a certain amount of flexibility in terms of "official" culpability. Other actors are not stupid; they know how to play the game, and really understand what's going on in the geopolitical arena. There's a big difference between what one sees publicly, and what goes on "behind the scenes."
posted by peeet at 11:34 PM on June 21, 2012

Although I've read very little concerning the issue, it appears that Sen. Feinstein believes that the United States is responsible for Flame and Stuxnet, as she's concerned about leaks of confidential information to that end. A relevant story.

Could a falsehood be considered confidential, or at least be (mis)represented as such by a politician or other government official? One supposes that that could be an element of counter-intelligence or propaganda if that is the case, although it's unclear to me why the government would be monkeying around like that now.
posted by mr. digits at 5:08 AM on June 22, 2012

To be clear, according to the NY Times, administration officials have anonymously confirmed US responsibility for Stuxnet. Taking that for granted -- is it illegal?
posted by to sir with millipedes at 5:30 AM on June 22, 2012

Determining whether the actions of a state are "illegal" is complicated, there isn't really a single agreed set of laws that govern things like this. It's a set of overlapping treaties, customs and ideas with no single body that has jurisdiction to prosecute or adjudicate.

The UN Charter prohibits unprovoked acts of war but doesn't specify exactly what those might be. The US has decided that they think of some cyber attacks as acts of war so by its own logic, cyber attacks on Iran's nuclear infrastructure might be considered an act of war.

On the other hand, Iran is arguably in violation of international customary "law" with its nuclear program. Are states "allowed" to carry out operations to enforce international "law" unilaterally? Most people would say no, they're not. There isn't anyone to enforce this though, and in practice veto holding members of the Security Council aren't bound by any of the UN's rules since they can veto any action against them.

The consequence of this is that if Iran were to consider it a cause for war against the US they could claim that they were attacked first. Of course, that doesn't matter because that's precisely what they don't want.
posted by atrazine at 6:20 AM on June 22, 2012

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