LENS Essay Series “Cyber Proxies in International Armed Conflicts: Shrinking the Gray Area”

Today’s addition to the LENS Essay series comes from a very talented rising Duke Law 3L, Victoria Morgan.   Her article is entitledCyber Proxies in International Armed Conflicts: Shrinking the Gray Areaand it’s the latest addition to LENS’ online Essays on Law, Ethics and National Security Series.

Ms. Morgan grapples with a very timely topic – cyber proxies.  In particular, she addresses the “hactivists” and other civlian cyber actors, and discusses when their actions may be attributable to a nation-state.  She explains what cyber proxies are, and considers how they might become targetable under the law of war in the event of an armed conflict.  

As you can see from her very impressive bio, Ms. Morgan is something of a Renaissance woman in that beyond the considerable range of her intellectual interests and academic accomplishments, she was also a star collegiate golfer who had a pro career as well. 

The abstract to Victoria’s paper is below, but don’t miss the opportunity to read her full essay here.


“From hired guns to hacktivists, this essay confronts legal issues raised by “cyber proxies”—cyber groups that in some way receive aid from their state governments.  The essay has four parts.  Part I provides background on traditional mercenaries and introduces new characters: hacktivists and PMSCs (private military and security companies).  Part II outlines three types of cyber proxies, which are categorized by their closeness to their host states.  Part III outlines the law of armed conflict’s principle of distinction.  Part IV applies the principle of distinction to the three types of cyber proxies presented in Part II.  Based on this application of the law, the article proposes specific recommendations.  First, a cyber proxy that is organized, armed, belongs to a party to the conflict and has directly participated in the conflict should be considered part of the armed forces.  That group’s personnel should thus be targetable based on their membership in the group.  Second, the “for such time” element of direct participation should begin as soon as a cyber proxy plans to commit an act of direct participation.  And third, after directly participating in the conflict, a cyber proxy’s direct participation status should continue as long as a harmed foreign state reasonably believes the hacker will again directly participate in the conflict.”

About the author:

This fall, Victoria Morgan will enter her third year at Duke Law School.  Prior to law school, Victoria graduated magna cum laude from the University of Southern California, majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Law.  As an undergraduate, Victoria competed for the USC Women’s Golf Team.  Victoria—originally a walk-on—ultimately earned a full athletic scholarship as well as All-American honors.  After college, Victoria played professional golf for two years.

Following graduation from Duke, Victoria will return home to Los Angeles.  She plans to work in employment law at Paul Hastings.

Remember what we like to say on Lawfire®: gather the facts, examine the law, evaluate the arguments – and then decide for yourself!

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