world war E
dispatches from the network society

Estonia: cyberbattle or cyber-riot?

John Borland at Wired criticizes the widespread adoption of a cyberwar framework for describing the attack on Estonia in April. Rather than a cyberwar, he cites an Israeli network analysts view that the attack was a ‘cyber-riot’: “The whole idea of…online mob psychology, is taking psychological warfare and putting it on the offensive.”

However, the cyberwar frame derives from accusations of Russian state sponsorship, not the method by which the attack was launched, as Borland acknowledges. Guerrilla tactics – or what John Robb calls open-source insurgencies – may or may not have the political valence of a ‘war’. (And ‘new war’ theorists like Kaldor, Keen, Kalyvas and others also argue the motivations for organized violence go – and have always gone – well beyond politics.)

This blog holds the cyberattack on Estonia as the spark of World War E because it represents a watershed moment of coordinated informational assault in response to concrete political decision-making. To be sure, riots usually have a certain logic below a veneer of chaos; but wars (or at least battles) have definitive targets and specific objectives, which in Estonia turned out to be government and media websites and punishing Estonia for a perceived slight.

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