PerspectiveU.S. Cyber Command, Russia and critical infrastructure: What norms and laws apply?

Published 18 June 2019

According to the New York Times, the United States is “stepping up digital incursions into Russia’s electric power grid.” The operations involve the “deployment of American computer code inside Russia’s grid and other targets,” supposedly to warn Russia against conducting further hostile cyber operations against U.S. critical infrastructure, and to build the capability to mount its own robust cyber operations against Russia in the event of a conflict.Michael Schmitt writes in Just Security that damaging critical infrastructure is clearly be out of bounds as responsible peacetime state behavior and would likely violate international law. But do these types of intrusions – seemingly intended to prepare for future operations or deter them, or both, without causing any actual harm – also run counter to applicable non-binding norms or violate international law during peacetime?