Cyberweapon is commonly defined as a malware agent employed for military, paramilitary, or intelligence objectives as part of a cyberattack. This includes computer viruses, trojans, spyware, and worms that can introduce corrupted code into existing software, causing a computer to perform actions or processes unintended by its operator.


Cyberweapon is usually sponsored or employed by a state or non-state actor, meets an objective that would otherwise require espionage or the use of force, and is employed against specific targets. A cyberweapon performs an action that would normally require a soldier or spy, and which would be considered either illegal or an act of war if performed directly by a human agent of the sponsor during peacetime. Legal issues include violating the privacy of the target and the sovereignty of its host nation.[1] Example of such actions are surveillance, data theft and electronic or physical destruction. While a cyberweapon almost certainly results in either direct or indirect financial damages to the target group, direct financial gains for the sponsor are not a primary objective of this class of agent.

Unlike malware used by script kiddies to organize botnets, where the ownership, physical location, and normal role of the machines attacked is largely irrelevant, cyberweapons show high selectivity in either or both of their employment and their operation. Before the attack, cyberweapons usually identify the target using different methods.[2] Likewise, malware employed by fraudsters for the theft of personal or financial information demonstrates lower selectivity and wider distribution.

While the term cyber weapon is frequently used by the press,[3][4] some articles avoid it, instead using terms such as "internet weapon", "hack", or "virus".[5] Mainstream researchers debate the requirements of the term while still referring to the employment of the agent as a "weapon",[6] and the software development community in particular uses the term more rarely.


The following malware agents generally meet the criteria above, have been formally referred to in this manner by industry security experts, or have been described this way in government or military statements:


In 2017 data breaches showed that supposedly secure hacking tools used by government agencies can be obtained − and sometimes exposed − by third parties. Furthermore, it was reported that after losing control of such tools the government appears to leave "exploits open to be re-used by scammers, criminals, or anyone else − for any purpose".[7] Claudio Guarnieri, a technologist from Amnesty International states: "what we learn from the disclosures and leaks of the last months is that unknown vulnerabilities are maintained secret even after they've been clearly lost, and that is plain irresponsible and unacceptable".[7]

Also in that year WikiLeaks released the Vault 7 documents series that contain details of CIA exploits and tools with Julian Assange stating that they are working to "disarm" them before publication.[8][9] Disarmament of cyber weapons may come in the form of contacting respective software vendors with information of vulnerabilities in their products as well as potential help with or autonomous development (for open source software) of patches.

See also


  1. ^ Downes, Cathy (2018). "Strategic Blind–Spots on Cyber Threats, Vectors and Campaigns". The Cyber Defense Review. 3 (1): 79–104. ISSN 2474-2120. JSTOR 26427378.
  2. ^ "Cyber Weapon Target Analysis". 2014-05-26.
  3. ^ "Powerful 'Flame' Cyberweapon Torching Mideast Computers : Discovery News". 2012-05-30. Retrieved 2012-12-07.
  4. ^ "Infosecurity – 2012: The Year Malware Went Nuclear". Retrieved 2012-12-07.
  5. ^ Perlroth, Nicole (2012-05-28). "Virus Infects Computers Across Middle East -". Iran: Retrieved 2012-12-07.
  6. ^ "Infosecurity – Kaspersky looks at the wreckage of Wiper malware". 2012-08-29. Retrieved 2012-12-07.
  7. ^ a b Cox, Joseph. "Your Government's Hacking Tools Are Not Safe". Motherboard. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
  8. ^ Fox-Brewster, Thomas. "Julian Assange: Wikileaks May Have Evidence CIA Spied On US Citizens". Forbes. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
  9. ^ "WikiLeaks vows to disclose CIA hacking tools; CIA to investigate". SearchSecurity. Retrieved 15 April 2017.

External links

  • Prashant Mali, Jan 2018 Defining Cyber Weapon in Context of Technology and Law
  • Stefano Mele, Jun 2013, Cyber-Weapons: Legal and Strategic Aspects (version 2.0)
  • Stefano Mele, 30 September 2010, Cyberwarfare and its damaging effects on citizens
  • Michael Riley and Ashlee Vance, 20 July 2011, Cyber Weapons: The New Arms Race