How does one define war on the internet? This is essentially the questions poised in this article by Joel Hruska about the possibility of cyber-warfare in Georgia:
According to Gadi Evron, former Chief information security officer (CISO) for the Israeli government’s ISP, there’s compelling historical evidence to suggest that the Russian military is not involved. He confirms that Georgian websites are under botnet attack, and that yes, these attacks are affecting that country’s infrastructure, but then notes that every politically tense moment over the past ten years has been followed by a spate of online attacks. It was only after Estonia made its well-publicized (and ultimately inaccurate) accusations against Russia that such attacks began to be referred to as cyberwarfare instead of politically motivated hackers.
So this is a very interesting question. How does one define the threshold beyond which an internet attack iss no longer considered the work of independent hackers and is considered a hostile act on the part of a sovereign nation? Surprisingly the answer (IMO) for cyber-warfare is not that much different that for physical warfare.
If nation A launches a missile at a building in nation B, this is generally considered an act of war. If it happens during a time where there is not an on-going conflict, the two sides may decide that the act of war need to escalate into a full scale War. But it is an act of war none-the-less. This scenario plays out repeatedly in real life.
Now if a group in nation A, working on their own, sneaks across the border and blows up a building in nation B, this is generally not considered an Act of War. But if nation A hired, sponsored, or otherwise supported the group that blew up the building, then it would be considered an act of war. Thus the US war in Afghanistan.
I predict that the same rules will be applied in Cyber-warfare. Acts by individuals or groups working on their own will be considered acts of terrorism. If state sponsorship can be established (a very difficult if), then it will be considered acts of war. Again, the two parties may decide that the act of war need not escalate into a full scale war.