The cyber domain is full of murky moral situations and transactions which constantly test the ethical compass of users and hackers alike. Rarely if ever does cyber produce an inoffensive outcome. Its products fight to stop the flow of malware as well as spreading those very same viruses and facilitate data breaches.

With cyber-attacks compromising nations and enterprises at will, cyber warriors are increasingly placed under the microscope, with all questionable sales, dual-use technologies and partners now viewed as suspect.

The rapid emergence of Cyber as a multifaceted and immensely consequential cornerstone of nearly every business it is approaching a crossroads in which its practitioners, vendors, and ideologues must decide: Who will influence the ethnics in the development of the next big cyber product.

Morality: Common Sence or Subjective?

Ethics and morality permeate every sector and technology on the market, regardless of if we’re aware of it or not. From Facebook and Google’s public in roads into morally questionable contracts to the everyday vendors and manufacturers choosing to follow industry-standard best practices vs minimum requirements as set by law, every participant of the supply chain navigates some level of morality or ethical compromise. While the individual choices may vary, the underlying need to understand right, wrong, and the gray area in between is universal.

More so, “Cybersecurity raises important ethical trade-offs and complex moral issues, such as whether to pay hackers to access data encrypted by ransomware or to intentionally deceive people through social engineering while undertaking penetration testing.”

In cybersecurity, walking the ethical tight rope is even more precarious. Whereas in medicine or industrial manufacturing, for example, the lines of morality coincide with firmly established legal mandates developed over generations in cyber the terms have yet to be fully defined. More so, in cyber, the technology or product’s intended use can often differ from how the end-user applies the solutions. This presents situations in which the vendor may have created a solution for a benign purpose that has resulted in unintended consequences.

Cyber ethics, who sets the tone?

From personal experience, I’ve seen that the process of establishing an understanding and active conversation around the ethics of cyber must be emphasized at every step in an individual’s professional journey. From the early education system (K-12) laying the foundation for cyber citizenship and outlining the protocols for decorum in the digital marketplace to the military and start-up communities versing their employees on the basics of cyber ethics, everyone has a role to play in establishing a more aware and introspective participant.

K-12 Education

If you want to proactively shape the conversation on cyber ethics early and high school are the place to start. Just like these institutions instill the hard skills to enable students to succeed at the next level, we must also use them as a training ground for the next generation of cyber philosophers, digital ethicists, and more importantly average citizens who interact with technology early and often in their collective every day lives.


Where early education can establish the skeleton of cyber morality, the military can fill in the muscles which drive the consciousness and consideration in a person’s cyber trajectory. With its rigid structure, clear directives, and hierarchy of command, the military can direct a policy of cyber ethics into every step in a cyber warrior’s journey.

Startup Culture

The startup mentality offers the ideal location to refine one’s cyber compass in a real-world scenario. Free from the strongly established protocols of the military or education system, the startup ecosystem can enable the ability to look past the theoretical and conceptualize what is at stake.

From deciding which partners meet your basic moral standards, establishing relationships with vendors in good faith, and interacting with customers, the startup pressure cooker presents the ideal place to look in the mirror and choose how one will walk the cyber high wire.

Government Legislation and mandates

The equation of influencing and prioritizing cyber education is complex, to say the least. The one constant is the ability of governments to broadly support initiatives and legislation which establish the funding and policy to make cyber education and good citizenry possible. In the public-private partnership, the government has the force to push cyber directives, and ensure a higher level of cyber accountability among all participants. Only through the active support of a government can cyber ethics be internalized across sectors, divergent demographics, and locales.

Simply put, forming the basis of ethics in cyber requires the interplay of government directives, dedicated educators, the military, and private sectors. Each element builds off its predecessor to refine a more nuanced vision of the realities and complexities of navigating the murky waters of our digital lives.

Key takeaways

  • Cyber education cannot be siloed into one sector or life stage
  • Government directives and funding help supercharge an active conversation on cyber ethics
  • Startup’s present complex issues of navigating morally questionable partners and maintaining financial viability

This article originally appeared in Forbes