Could a cyberattack trigger world war?

(To Avv. Marco Valerio Verni)

In these days of war between Russia and Ukraine a lot has been written about the possible scenarios that could develop including, (yes, you can learn it), an intervention by NATO in defense of the second of the aforementioned states.

At the moment, such an option would seem excluded, both because the country led by Zelensky is not part of the Atlantic forum, thus excluding an intervention by the states adhering to it in its defense (which, otherwise, would have been possible in the mind of the Article 5 of the relevant Treaty1), and because, in any case, the ways that we would like to prefer would be those of sanctions (already implemented) and, albeit currently very complicated, of diplomacy, as well as attempted to the last and sought to date.

Otherwise, in fact, if an armed response could be evaluated and this solution was decided, it is clear that there would be a risk of going into a war that would have disastrous consequences, given the nature and type of armaments possessed by the armies that would come to oppose militarily.

Making predictions in this sense is certainly difficult, especially after Putin's decision to invade Ukraine: a possible scenario, certainly up to a few days ago, but considered unlikely by many, given the arguments developed, according to which the Russian leader would have he was able to obtain various advantages already from having in any case forced, with the mere threat of war, accompanied by actual movements in this sense of his forces, several world leaders to sit down at the negotiating table.

The reason would suggest that, given the current scenario, for the Kremlin, directly attacking another state belonging to NATO, would mean enabling the latter to therefore be able to evaluate what at the moment, precisely, would be impossible (i.e. direct intervention in hostilities) and find themselves against, concretely, different nations.

But the danger that everything could fall is, as they say, just around the corner, above all because what, too, would risk unleashing the imponderable could derive from a threat as invisible as it is equally dangerous compared to a "classic" military action. : ie a cyber attack.

In fact, it is now undisputed that, according to NATO doctrine, such an attack (ie cybernetic) against one of its members, precisely because it is potentially capable of causing damage comparable to that of a kinetic or "traditional" armed attack , can be equated to it and, therefore, legitimize the collective defense established by art. 5 of his Treaty, mentioned above: already at the outcome of the Wales Summit, in 2014, in fact, the Heads of State and Government of the Atlantic Pact had agreed on the advisability of extending the application of the solidarity clause provided for by the aforementioned law to cyberspace as well. two years later, at the 2016 Warsaw summit, it was decided to elevate cyber space to an operational domain, equating it to other conventional military domains).

Well, one of the main problems regarding cyber attacks is the attribution of their paternity, the ascertainment of which is necessary, of course, to be sure to hit, then, in the event of a reaction, the person who actually conducted it. or ordered, while offering sufficient evidence to legitimize the aforementioned (reaction) in the public eye.

In this regard, in a study by the IAI - Istituto Affari Internazionali, it was observed that “(…) Given the lack of information and physical evidence and the extreme maneuverability of virtual data, certainty about the authorship of certain attacks is almost impossible to achieve. The aim is at least to equip oneself with technological skills to understand if there is a high probability that the attack comes from a certain source, after which political will is needed to assert a responsibility of others and adopt the consequent measures based on one's own posture of deterrence. and defense. Beyond the various procedures at national level, the attribution of an attack remains a purely political decision "2.

In these circumstances, it is clear the danger that, net of a premeditated attack directly carried out by a State in an "official" way, would lie in the fact that it could, on the contrary, be prepared and launched fraudulently by those who have an interest in creating destabilization or, worse, a large-scale war, in fact: think, for example, of some terrorist organization or, why not, some agency of intelligence who, with due expertise, purposely initiate an attack of this kind against a State, a member of NATO, in such a way as to make it appear to originate from another State that is intentionally to be blamed completely.

A possibility, remote, perhaps - but who knows -, with which today we must deal and which could occur in any situation of serious crisis, no scenario excluded.

1 The parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America will be regarded as a direct attack against all the parties, and consequently agree that if such an attack occurs, each of them, in the exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense, recognized by art. 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the party or parties thus attacked by immediately taking, individually and in concert with the other parties, the action it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain security in the North Atlantic region. Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result of it will immediately be brought to the attention of the Security Council. These measures will end when the Security Council has taken the necessary measures to restore and maintain international peace and security.

2 “Italy and cyber defense”, by Alessandro Marrone, Ester Sabatino and Ottavia Credi, p. 38.

Photo: United States Department of Energy