Hackers of a terrorist group are killed by a smart bomb just minutes after they start a cyber attack. Sounds like science fiction but the cyber domain just received its first immediate kinetic response. This sounds like a science fiction story - what the cyber?

Art, Sci-Fi, Military Doctrine

The word Cyber became popular when internet, digital communication, and digital identities were all emerging and the term “Cyberspace” was able to describe the new phenomena and ideas. It has been called the largest unregulated and uncontrolled domain in the history of mankind[1] and is also unique because it is a domain created by people contrary to the traditional physical domains.


The term Cyberspace was coined when Danish artist Susanne Ussing (1940-1998) and her partner architect Carsten Hoff (b. 1934) founded Atelier Cyberspace. The two made a series of installations and images entitled “sensory spaces” that were based on the principle of open systems adaptable to various influences, such as human movement and the behavior of new materials[2].

Science Fiction

The first usage of Cyberspace in the context of online computer networks was in the 1980s when science fiction author William Gibson used the term in his cyberpunk books Burning Chrome (1982) and Neuromancer (1984).

picture of hacker

Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters, and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding. (Neuromancer)

Neuromancer is a cult classic of the science fiction subgenre cyberpunk. The story of Case, Molly, Armitage, the AIs Wintermute and Neuromancer, and the Turing Police are unforgotten and quickly became an underground hit. Today the book is considered “the archetypal cyberpunk work”.

Military Doctrine

In 1995 General Ronald R. Fogleman, Air Force chief of staff delivered a speech to the Armed Forces Communications-Electronics Association [3].

In this speech, he defined a new dimension of Warfare. Information. Later the scope was extended beyond the original information operations background, focusing on “the advanced space-time manipulating capabilities cyberspace offers” and resulting in “Advanced Battlespace and Cybermaneuver Concepts” [4].

Today all major military contenders and alliances [5] operate in the 5 dimensions (domains) of warfare:

  • Land
  • Sea
  • Air
  • Space
  • Cyber

The domains are not seen as silos of their own but are connected and operations are carried out in multiple dimensions to form the battlefields of our time.


Cyberwarfare consists of both offensive and defensive operations like espionage, sabotage, and cyber attacks. Powers have been developing cyber capabilities and have engaged in offensive and defensive activities.

Richard A. Clarke defines it as “actions by a nation-state to penetrate another nation’s computers or networks for the purposes of causing damage or disruption.”[6] Martin Libicki defines two types of cyberwarfare: Strategic and operational, with strategic being “a campaign of cyberattacks one entity carries out on another”, whilst operational cyberwarfare “involves the use of cyberattacks on the other side’s military in the context of a physical war.”[7]

Other definitions include non-state actors, such as companies, terrorist groups, political or ideological extremist groups, terrorist hacktivists, and transnational organizations.

Espionage or Cyber-espionage is generally assumed ongoing between all major powers. One example is the massive spying of the US in many countries as it was revealed by Edward Snowden. Espionage is not considered an act of war but the word attack is often used in this context.

Sabotage Cyber attacks with the goal of interruption or interception is a major threat to the functionality of the military and civilian infrastructure. Examples are the attack of US/Israel against Iran with the Stuxnet worm or the attack of Russia against the Ukrainian power grid. The attack surface of nation-states will increase with a broader adaption of IOT and Industry 4.0. State player attacks against banks with the purpose of disrupting the economy of adversaries is an option.

Propaganda Cyber-propaganda is an effort to control or manipulate public opinion. It utilizes social-media, fake websites, and other digital channels to de-legitimize the political system. The internet provides low-cost access to a wide audience and provides a feedback loop regarding the efficiency of propaganda. Countermeasures are affecting the freedom of speech principle of liberal societies and can turn into the perception of censorship.

Latest Development

There has been controversy over whether cyber operations can be called a declaration of war. The US moved forward in 2011 and made clear that a kinetic response to cyberattacks is a viable option [8].

In 2015 the US became the first country to respond with military force to a cyberattack. A remote-controlled drone killed a British citizen who was involved in the release of personally identifiable information of about 1,300 U.S. military and government employees.

An now in 2019 Israel became the first country to respond with immediate military force to a cyberattack. The Hamas cyber-units headquarters in Gaza was destroyed in a so-called “bomb-back” mission[9]. This is a turning point in modern warfare.

The attack was executed by an F-16 fighter airplane. It is currently unknown if the cyberattack was pinpointed to this location or if the IDF used previously acquired knowledge of the location to attack the cyber forces of Hamas.

For future development and more details on the topic I want to refer to two of the thought leaders on cyber warfare: the grugq

and mikko


The rise of the cyberspace as a domain of fighting wars has led to multiple efforts to control cyberweapons and surveillance technology. Initiatives include the disclosure of vulnerabilities, decentralization, encryption, and education. Policymakers in Europe are developing rules and norms for modern warfare including cyber. It has to be seen how the results of Cyberpeace efforts will affect the wars on this new battlefield of the 21st century.


Many of the topics of Neuromancer have become a reality of our time and we see the beginning of developments that have been anticipated in the book. AI, Cyborgs and Genetic Modifications are all on the horizon.

We live in interesting times of Sci-Fi reality.