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When Does Internet Denial Trigger the Right of Armed Self-Defense?

Written by  Sheng Li

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This Note examines the international law of cyber-warfare. It identifies the conditions under which a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack may qualify as an “armed attack” under various international legal instruments, including Article 51 of the U.N. Charter and Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. By analogizing DDoS attacks to naval blockades, the Note offers new insights whose implications are set in stark relief against real-life events, particularly the 2007 DDoS attacks against Estonia. As critical infrastructure is more digitized than ever before, and as the distinction between hacks and attacks breaks down, the Note examines when, whether, and how a state may respond militarily in self-defense to a breach of cyber-security, grappling with an urgent, emerging question of international law.

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