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The ethics of cyber attack: Pursuing legitimate security and the common good in contemporary conflict scenarios

Lonsdale, David J.


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Dr David Lonsdale
Senior Lecturer/ Programme Director, BA War Studies/ Programme Director, MA Strategy and International Security


Cyber attack against Critical National Infrastructure is a developing capability in state arsenals. The onset of this new instrument in national security has implications for conflict thresholds and military ethics. To serve as a legitimate tool of policy, cyber attack must operate in accordance with moral concerns. To test the viability of cyber attack, this paper provides a new perspective on cyber ethics. Cyber attack is tested against the criteria of the Common Good. This involves identifying the four core components of the common good from a conflict perspective: respect for the person; social wellbeing; peace and security; and solidarity. The fate of these components is assessed in relation to the six key characteristics of cyber attack from a moral standpoint: security; the role or absence of violence; discrimination; proportionality; cyberharm; and the threshold of conflict. It is concluded that the common good must be incorporated into developing state cyber strategies.


Lonsdale, D. J. (2020). The ethics of cyber attack: Pursuing legitimate security and the common good in contemporary conflict scenarios. Journal of Military Ethics, 19(1), 20-39.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 28, 2018
Online Publication Date May 28, 2020
Publication Date 2020
Deposit Date Feb 12, 2019
Publicly Available Date Oct 27, 2022
Journal Journal of Military Ethics
Print ISSN 1502-7570
Electronic ISSN 1502-7589
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 19
Issue 1
Pages 20-39
Keywords Cyber attack; Cyber strategies; Conflict thresholds; Military ethics; Common good
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Article (615 Kb)

Copyright Statement
©2020 University of Hull
This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Journal of Military Ethics on 28 May 2020, available online:

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