Dug Campbell

Cyberwarfare Reporting

It’s looking like we’re now truly entering into the age where cyberwarfare is becoming commonplace. For example, I read today that the US and the UK have agreed to carry out cyber attack war games on each other as part of an attempt to strengthen their defences, firstly against an attack on the financial markets. Once you start to think about the fallout from the Sony/’The Interview’ story which dominated the end of last year, the impact of Stuxnet and the more recent attack on a steel mill in Germany in which safety systems were supposedly overridden, it’s clear that these types of events are either becoming more frequent or being reported on more regularly by the press – or both.

But as a recent article points out, the reality is that despite the huge significance of these events it’s almost impossible for the press to actually report accurately on such stories because:

  • cyber warfare doesn’t have physical troop movements that you can report;
  • a government is under no obligation to tell journalists what they’re doing in a cyber war (unlike in a ‘real’ war where the obligations are higher – in theory at least);
  • when it comes to cyber warfare, there is no way to be certain who is doing what and why.

For example, with The Interview last month, journalists were struggling to report the story – the evidence that North Korea was responsible seemed somewhat flimsy but they clearly had a viable motive motive. As did the US for whom the creation of a “cyber bogeyman” to justify increased online surveillance in general was a gift.

In essence, journalists have an overriding obligation to report the truth yet they have no way of finding out what the truth is with the current system. And when the consequences are as serious as imposing sanctions on another country and reclassifying it as a terrorist state, the risk for  journalists in being forced to rely on government stories can only become even greater.