New technologies are changing the concept of the battlefield and the legal system has yet to catch up, according to a Wollongong international law expert.
Professor Stuart Kaye will lead a free public seminar at the University of Wollongong tomorrow in a bid to alert more people to the possibilities of a battlefield they may have never imagined.
The seminar has been organised by Australian Red Cross and the University of Wollongong Law Faculty and will examine how international humanitarian law could be applied to cyber crime.
The field was problematic because, unlike with conventional warfare, cyber criminals could be untraceable.
"You don't know where the attack is coming from or what the motivations are," said Prof Kaye, formerly the Dean of Law at Wollongong and chair of the Australian International Humanitarian Law Committee.
"The application of principles of international humanitarian law is difficult."
Prof Kaye said most people had given little thought to the consequences of a cyber attack, despite the publicity given to attacks on Ukraine in 2012 and on Estonia in 2007, during which websites for the country's parliament, banks, ministries, newspapers and broadcasters were swamped with traffic and rendered useless.
The attack occurred during the country's row with Russia over the relocation of a Soviet-era grave marker and questions remain as to whether it had the blessing of the Kremlin.
The attack was an example of a denial-of-service attack, where thousands of computers act at once to cause websites to crash.
Other attacks - opening or closing flood gates for instance - could have more serious implications in future.
"At the moment [cyber attacks] are manifested in the form of disruption and inconvenience," Prof Kaye said.
"But to what extent states can interfere with each other on the cyber battlefield isn't known.
"I think it's possible in the future that cyber attacks will become more common.
"Coming up with legal mechanisms to deal with these sorts of things is important."
Prof Kaye will present his talk, Cyber Warfare: the challenges of IHL's new frontier, in building 67, room 303 at the University tomorrow from 12.30pm. Email email@example.com for more information.