When should we commemorate the centenary of cyberwarfare - or has it already passed?

It causes surprise when I inform those who say that UK, EU or International legislation on electronic signatures and transactions is urgent that the first test case on whether a cable is an enforceable contract went to the New Hampshire Supreme Court in 1869 and their plans would undermine the basis of over a century of global electornic commerce. Those say e-crime is new and needs new laws are equally surprised that the first detected use of electronic interception for criminal purposes was in France in 1834, when Francois and Joseph Blanc were found to have bribed telegraph operators to give them news of stock exchange transactions. The first (and arguably most successful) global agreements on conduct in cyberspace (including charging rates, coding and security processes), derive from the International Telegraph Conference in 1865.

Should we count the start of cyberwarfare to May 1857 when almost the first act of the Meerut mutineers was to cut the telegraph lines – albeit too late for the Delhi office to send the news out over 6,000 kilometres of cable linking the main communications centres of India? Or from May 1863 and the Battle of Chancellorsville when Butterfield made the first battlefield use of telegraphic deception and interception and the subsequent failure of the Union telegraph systems when the Union armies were on the verge of success blinded Hooker and led him to turn victory into defeat. There is an early (but still most relevant) lesson here for those who rely on complex technologies sold to the military by those who have good connections in Washington (e.g. the Beardslee system) when simpler systems (e.g. Morse) are already in widespread commercial use.   

Or should we count the centenary of cyberwarfare to the first occasion when the battle would not otherwise have happened at all : December 8th December 1914 when 10 British Sailors and 2,200 Germans died after the German East Asia Squadron was lured to its doom by a false signal requesting them to destroy the wireless station at Port Stanley on their way home.  As with most cybervictories the winners deny it ever happened that way. British historians say that sending such a signal would have been against policy and quote Churchill as reprimanding Jellicoe for later mentioning in a telegraph that we had broken the German codes. However the need for a victory after Battle of Coronel and the source of the story ( Franz von Rintelen recalling an interview in the 1920s with Admiral Blinker Hall, who had unmasked him and was now retired) make it highly likely that political considerations had caused the First Lord of the Admiralty to over-ride his own policy (if had yet been written).   

My main point in this blog is to draw attention to one of the questions in the competition on improving confidence in the on-line world: what is really different about the Internet if anything? Or is it just the arrogance of youth believing that increasing volume, speed and complexity change everything and they should throw away the past in favour of the latest untried technobabble. If so, they may well face the equivalent of a re-run of the Battle of Chancellorsville as they turn victory into defeat and not the first Battle of the Falkland Islands. 

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If we could just edge our way, Philip, into the 1940s we might recall Hedy Lamaar, "the most beautiful woman in the world", and her invention of frequency-hopping, patented in 1942 but not used by the US military until 1962 and the Bay of Pigs. Today FHSS frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology keeps a lot of our wireless devices communicating. They just don't make signals officers like that any more.

Hi Phil,

As documented at:


...the Dambusters raid was a CNI event.