I'm very critical of the sloppy way in which many of the discussions about 'cyber war' have presented the issue.
Read the report Cyber war and Cyber Power: Issues for NATO Doctrine that I wrote for the NATO Defence College at
I hope the following will help clarify the discussion; :
1) For the US and Canada, their allies, and NATO, cyber war as the focus of concern is a misnomer; the real or potential use of cyber power by nations or terrorist groups should be the principle focus. Cyber war is just one outcome of the exercise of cyber power betwee nations.
To draw an analogy from naval thinking, since the writings of Alfred Mahan, sea power rather than naval war has been the preferred strategic frame of reference for the projection of state power on the oceans. Like 'naval war', cyber war conjures up legal, policy, military, and diplomatic considerations that inappropriately narrow the scope of relevant issues. Cyber space is better thought of as a new theater for states to exercise cyber power and not just to conduct cyber war.
In nuanced ways perhaps not yet seen, cyber power can involve both the projection of state power as well as the creative use of active defenses, all in concert with other military, diplomatic, information and economic tools. The projection of cyber power with both offensive and defensive elements must be a component of national and NATO security doctrine for the future.
2)In large-scale warfare it doesn't make much sense to launch disruptive cyber attacks without any 'kinetic' (bombs and bullets) accompaniment. In other words, I totally disagree with the scare-mongers who predict a full scale cyber war waged only with computers. Disruptive cyber attacks can destroy important data and disrupt communications, and perhaps seriously affect physical operations like transportation and the management of large scale networks like electric power. But even now major electric blackouts or communications systems failures are not unknown, and yet advanced countries manage to carry on. While the impact of cyber attacks may be hard to gauge in advance -- a consideration of concern to the attacker every bit as much as to those attacked -- the effect of disruptive cyber attack is to throw sand in the gears.