Dr Lucas Kello comments on warnings of cyberwar with Islamic State

Yesterday, Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne warned in a speech at GCHQ that Islamic State terrorists are seeking to use “cyber warfare to kill people” in the country. He promised that the government would respond to such an attack with “the full spectrum of actions,” including the use of armed force.

“Were this scenario to occur,” explains Lucas Kello, Senior Lecturer in International Relations and Director of the Cyber Studies Programme, “it would contain three novelties: it would be the first destructive cyberattack by terrorists, the first attack to inflict loss of life, and the first to elicit a conventional military response.” The Chancellor’s stance is itself interesting and revealing, “because it represents an attempt to deter hostilities in cyberspace with the promise of severe reprisal in other domains,” Kello continues. “This strategy of cross-domain deterrence may work against rogue states such as North Korea, but it is unlikely to sway religious fundamentalists who are less affected by calculations of material loss. Rather, the best strategies to counter extremist groups are preemption and prevention, which in the cyber domain require the deep penetration of enemy networks—hence the government’s compulsion to surveil.”

Problems of cyber security may continue to confound policymakers and thinkers for a long while to come. In recognition of the need for new cyber scholarship, the University of Oxford has established itself as a world class institution for academic research and teaching in this area.

This record is reflected in the University’s many centres and programmes that specialise in cyber or digital issues across several divisions and departments, including the Cyber Studies Programme in the Centre for International Studies at DPIR, which seeks to clarify the effects of information technology on political systems. The programme is sponsored by the European Social Fund and the Estonian Government.

Also based at the University of Oxford are the Oxford Internet Institute, Centre for Doctoral Training in Cyber Security, Global Cyber Security Capacity Centre (Oxford Martin School) and the Oxford e-Research Centre. The University’s Cyber Security Oxford research network seeks to facilitate collaboration among scholars across these initiatives.