“Cyber War Will Not Take Place”: Dr Thomas Rid presents his book at NATO Headquarters

  • 07 May. 2013 -
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  • Last updated: 31 May. 2013 16:17

Author Dr Thomas Rid presented his book Cyber War Will Not Take Place and took part in a discussion organised by the NATO Multimedia Library on 7 May 2013.

Jonathan Parish of NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division chaired the debate.

Thomas Rid is currently reading War Studies at King’s College London and has a long, varied and international academic background. From 2003 to 2011 he worked at leading think tanks and universities in Berlin, Jerusalem, Paris and Washington. He has published four books and numerous articles on international security, the history of strategy, deterrence and new technologies.


What is cyber war? “We have to be cautious in using this expression,” says Dr Rid. In considering the concept of war, he insists on the violent character of war: an act of force has to be violent, instrumental and political. He explains that not a single human being has yet been killed or hurt as a result of a cyber attack.

The core argument of the book is that computer attacks, those which exclude crime, take place in three dimensions: sabotage, which can potentially damage machines or processes; espionage, both political and commercial; and subversion - activism or militancy online.

Compared to any traditional act of force, a cyber attack helps diminish rather than accentuate violence. In the context of sabotage or espionage, it is now possible to either directly target systems without human operators or to exfiltrate information and data from a target without necessary infiltrating human agents. In the context of subversion, the goal of a cyber attack is to undermine established authority in a non-violent way.

Cyber weapons involve the weaponisation of a computer code. To maximise the destructive potential of a cyber weapon, the intelligence, resources and time required to build and deploy it will significantly increase, while the number of targets, collateral damage and political utility of the tool will decrease.

The book gives a range of examples and case studies of cyber attacks in the three dimensions outlined above. The book also insists on the attribution problem - the lack of traceability of cyber attacks. Rid argues that this issue is a political problem, not a technical one and that it depends on the severity of the attack.


This book will be welcomed by all those who have struggled to get the measure of the ‘cyber war’ threat. As Thomas Rid takes on the digital doomsters he also provides a comprehensive, authoritative and sophisticated analysis of the strategic quandaries created by the new technologies.” — Sir Lawrence Freedman, Professor of War Studies, King's College London and author of Strategy: A History(2013)

“Thomas Rid provides an unusually level-headed view of where we are in the cyber arms race. This book nips in the bud the loose talk of cyber war and illustrates what's really happening. Anyone involved in building defences against future attacks should read this book first.” — Mikko Hypponen, virus analyst and Chief Research Officer, F-Secure

“We're in the early years of a cyber war arms race, one fuelled by both fear and ignorance. This book is a cogent counterpoint to both the doomsayers and profiteers, and should be required reading for anyone concerned about our national security policy in cyberspace.” — Bruce Schneier, security guru and author of Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust Society Needs to Thrive

“With news of, terrorism and espionage seemingly everywhere, separating hype from reality is not always easy. Many agencies and companies stand to gain by inflating cyber security fears. In ‘Will Not Take Place’, Thomas Rid takes a razor to the evidence and carefully dissects the evolution of conflict and espionage in the cyber age. The result is a compelling and authoritative take on war and strategy in cyberspace, one that will surely be seminal in this area for years to come.” — Ronald J. Deibert, Citizen Lab Director and author of Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace

Table of Contents

  • What is ?
  • Violence
  • Cyber Weapons
  • Sabotage
  • Espionage
  • Subversion
  • Attribution
  • Beyond