ANU postgraduate elective to equip students with legal expertise to tackle cyber warfare

Dr William Boothby, convenor of Cyber Warfare Law at ANU
Dr William Boothby will return to ANU College of Law in October 2019 to teach Cyber Warfare Law as a postgraduate elective.

There are all sorts of reasons why this is an important time for students to take an interest in cyber issues.

A renowned international humanitarian law and weapons law scholar will teach a course on cyber warfare law to postgraduate students at The Australian National University (ANU) College of Law.

Dr William Boothby, a retired UK Air Commodore who played a central role in the preparation of The Tallinn Manual on the Law of Cyber Warfare, will teach Cyber Warfare Law (LAWS 8035), an intensive course for Master of Laws (LLM) students.  

The course explores the extent to which norms of existing law can properly be applied to cyber operations. It draws on elements of general international law, the international law that governs the recourse to armed force and international humanitarian law, all in the specific context of cyber warfare.

“There are all sorts of reasons why this is an important time for students to take an interest in cyber issues including security, warfare and what the law has to say about these topics,” said Dr Boothby.

“The main reason can be summed up as 'the threat'. What in its early days was seen as an almost exclusively 'good thing' – global free access to information via the world wide web, instant communication and so on – is now also seen as involving risk and vulnerability.

Governments are becoming ever more reliant on digital technology, making them more vulnerable to cyber attacks. In 2007, Estonia was attacked by pro-Russian hackers who crippled government servers. Iran’s nuclear power plants were infected by malware first identified in 2010, while cyber attacks in Ukraine targeted the country’s electricity grid in 2015.

In Australia, the Federal Government is developing a new Cyber Security Strategy to counter attacks such as one that targeted Parliament earlier this month.

Dr Boothby noted the threat of cyber warfare exists “at all levels” and “takes many forms” including theft, interference with democratic processes, destruction of or interference with databases, data theft, intellectual property theft and other motives.

“My impression is that, in Australia, you have tried hard to adopt a joined-up approach to these matters. Globally, divisions of view about freedom of access to information that date back many decades lie at the core of the differing approaches to how to deal with cyberspace,” he said.

“Indeed, Russia and China even have a different term for the phenomenon, so achieving a common view of how the law applies is always going to be challenging.”

Including a four-day intensive, Cyber Warfare Law will give students an in-depth understanding of the body of international law that regulates international security. Students can also expect to learn the legal principles and rules that apply once an armed conflict is underway, including how these rules apply to practical situations.

“More generally, students will discuss problem scenarios in work groups, and present and discuss solutions in plenary. Maybe, at the end of the course, they will view cyberspace and the world wide web a little differently,” said Dr Boothby.

“Above all, I hope they will enjoy the course. Some may be led into a career, perhaps in cyber security or the development of cyber policy or even in academia. But for those who are not, I hope the course will prove to be intellectually stimulating.”

Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team