First, there is no such thing as cyber warfare. There is war in the cyber domain and cyber will likely be an adjunct in the future towards other aims of war. Much like air, land and sea conflicts are adjuncts to the larger conflict we call war between nation states there is very little likelihood that cyber itself and on it’s own will be the only component of war. Consider the following diagram. It is structured to show the different levels or characteristics of “policy” and “doing” in the modern nation-state. Those who deny the existence of cyber warfare ever occurring are making a strategic or political assessment. The idea of war utilizing the domain of cyber has already happened. It is more than the mere definitions.
It is pretty obvious that some pundits like to redefine and artificially restrict the use of words to fit their personal bias or argument. In answering the question of cyber war to occur or not we might be better examining it using conflict as our fulcrum rather than war. The more likely aspect of this is that a strategic engagement of cyber warfare will not occur, but that cyber will be used to support an entities war fighting capability or degrade the adversaries capacity to wage war. This is no more or less than the utilization of strategic (improperly named) air assets to deny, disrupt or degrade Germany’s war making capacity. In cyber that same task might have been to attack a Department of Defense contractors computer system and steal or alter the plans for a new generation of fighter aircraft. In a time of active hostilities that might be an offensive covert operations on one nation-state towards another that does not rise to the act of war.
One element that I’m seeing in current press reports is the idea of strategic cyber warfare (ill-suited for sure) and mixing up the tactical elements (weapons, tools, techniques) for the actions of actual war. If you’re talking about a specific weapons utilization as being an act of war you’ve likely missed the point. You’ve mistaken the weapon for the effect and action. Shooting an M16 is not an act of war, but killing the ambassador of another country (or an arch duke) is likely an act of war. It really depends.
What some of this is illuminating is that cold war era strategies are likely not going to be adaptable to current world problems. Regardless of the cyber annex it is becoming apparent that the analogies and metaphors of conflict used to soften the discussion of killing people and breaking things are breaking down. More importantly and as a key take away the concept of the nation-state as a political entity is evolving. The current legal principles espoused as the Laws Of Armed Conflict (LOAC) may be rendered useless. The weaponization of the infosphere is not having the expected effects, but is having new and more interesting effects. Similarly the Clausewitzian view of the nation and politics and the adjunct of conflict to politics as nation-state will may be eroding.