Report: "Ethics of Hacking Back"

26 September 2016
36 pages


It is widely believed that a cyberattack victim should not “hack back” against attackers. Among the chief worries are that hacking back is (probably) illegal and immoral; and if it targets foreign networks, then it may spark a cyberwar between states. However, these worries are largely taken for granted: they are asserted without much argument, without considering the possibility that hacking back could ever be justified. This policy paper offers both the case for and against hacking back—examining six core arguments—to more carefully consider the practice.

Six arguments
  1. Argument from the rule of law
  2. Argument from self-defense
  3. Argument from attribution
  4. Argument from escalation
  5. Argument from public health
  6. Argument from practical effects

Please click here for the full report, funded by the US National Science Foundation.

Contact Us

Patrick Lin, Ph.D., Director
Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group
Philosophy Department
California Polytechnic State University
San Luis Obispo, CA 93407
palin [at]

Related Op-Eds

World Economic Forum
Is It Wrong for Victims of Cyber-Crime to Hack Back?

Council on Foreign Relations
Hacking Back Is Ethical in the Cyber Frontier

Lessons From Zombie Warfare Can Help Us Beat Hackers At Their Own Game

Forget About Law and Ethics — Is Hacking Back Even Effective?


Copyright © Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group
All trademarks, logos and images are the property of their respective owners.