Digital Destruction: Applying the Principle of Non-Intervention to Distributed Denial of Service Attacks Manifesting No Physical Damage


A clear principle has not yet developed in international law to deal with State-conducted cyber activities that cause harm to other states but do not directly cause physical damage. One method of conducting such a cyber activity is to carry out a “distributed denial of service” (DDoS) attack. DDoS attacks prohibit a user from accessing a digital resource by bombarding the network with digital requests to use the resource. The principle of non-intervention provides one avenue for applying current international law to DDoS attacks that are not immediately physically destructive. Under the principle of non-intervention, such attacks would be internationally unlawful if they amounted to coercion of the target state. This application would be consistent with past applications of non-intervention and would provide a more helpful framework for analyzing the international legality of non-destructive DDoS attacks than other areas of customary law or the Charter of the United Nations.

54 Colum. J. Transnat'l L. 873