Deepening Roots of State-Sponsored Cyber Espionage

With a giant leap of technology, the concept of cyberspace emerged, demarcated by its virtual boundaries. These virtual boundaries are being penetrated through spying programmes like GhostNet, Trojan, logic-bombs or other associated malwares, shaping the concept of Cyber Espionage.

Various factors like extent and magnitude of damage caused by attacks, nature and identity of attacks and how much sensitive information is lost, play a leading role to define cyber espionage. That’s why, this concept is still devoid of any well accepted definition and different nations have their own version of cyber espionage. As per Tallinn Manual, “cyber espionage is an act undertaken clandestinely or under false pretences that uses cyber capabilities to gather information with the intention of communicating it to the opposing party.”

Increasing dependence on technology, where classified information finds its place in databases, the amount of state-sponsored espionage has also increased. Espionage is an age old state tacit, which also finds mention in Kautilya’s Arthasastra. Edward Snowden revelations in June 2013 and recent global cyber espionage incidents brought that issue on centre stage. These cyber stunts not only insult the sovereignty of a State but also lead to major economic drain.

Concerning the gravity of issue, it cannot be attached to mere incidents of technology misuse but revolves around serious politico-legal repercussions. Cyber espionage has the potential to steal trade secrets, valuable intellectual property as well as confidential information regarding a nation’s security system.  Leading members of world fraternity are being accused of crossing their red line in the virtual space. Russia, China and America are proclaimed as most notorious violators of cyber ethics. Though, it would be a great folly to limit these violations only to few standard countries. In the secret cover of screens, many countries around the world are committing cyber-espionage.

Demands are being raised by various national groups to declare it a warfare activity. International law is still trying to establish a basic framework to encounter this global challenge. Ingredients that constitute offence and defence are shaping themselves in the umbrella of international law. As per Tallinn Manual, cyber space being the sovereign territory gives rise to a legitimate logic of treating cyber attacks with same seriousness as attacks on physical territory. Thus, victim nations shall be entitled to justice and reparations under the ambit of international law and propounds evolution of law thereto.

It goes without any doubt that implications of cyber espionage are indeed severe and concept like cyber warfare can take shape as a natural consequence.  However, certain section of experts rejects the claims of cyber warfare in Toto. They declare that cyber attacks are too disorganised and disjointed to take shape of real war. Owing to constant media coverage, public perception hints towards the escalation of cyber attacks into full-scale war. The reality check rejects all these perception because the scale of these attacks is less than 4%. Public perception is being shaped by media as well as politics. One can sensitise the issue and broadcast a productive story while others can direct public policy in lieu of combating cyber espionage. However, barring the equation of cyber espionage with warfare, cyber attacks do deserve a legal sensitive framework governing the international fraternity.




Deepika Sangwan is a second-year student at Army Institute of Law, Mohali. She is an Editor at college magazine ‘AILITE 2016-2017’. She believes that writing gives clarity & depth to one’s thoughts. Apart from decorating facts with reasoning, cycling is her favourite pass time.


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