Imagine a world somewhat like today’s. Two servers, halfway across the world from each other, decide to declare war on each other. How would one server attempt to kill the personnel in the other server?

Notes: The stratagem should cause as little harm as possible to civilians, and definitely not to the attackers (aka nuclear war is out of the question)

  • $\begingroup$ Ohai, JSC. Are you researching a backstory for a new PPCG? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ Not really, @Blacksilver although it may be included in my next KOTH bot :) $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ What is the purpose of the servers ? only killing the other server, or does they have other uses ? I mean, if one server is used to control trafic lights, shuting down the server will create lot of accident $\endgroup$
    – Kepotx
    Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ Are you restricted to cyber warfare, or are we allowed to play a nice game of global thermonuclear war? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ What exactly are the "personnel in the other server" ? Servers are essentially autonomous unmanned units. Personally are only required for what is essentially maintenance and development. There was a documented case of a working server being accidentally walled up and ignored for two years without problem, so who are these personnel ? Why is the server not trying to kill the other server - i.e. hack it to bits, as it were ? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 21, 2018 at 17:35

8 Answers 8


Right. This asks for a precise and logic approach. Plenty of cycles available, yes?

  1. Identify every single person (while protecting the id of your own crew).
    This of course includes any server backup and backup power facility crew. Not only name, address, social security number, but also mobile number, facebook page, twitter account, IP number, you get the picture.

  2. Select a method per person that can be utilized simultaneously.
    This must be achievable digitally. There are SO many options:

    • Out as criminal snitch of organised crime.
      Provided with the proper documentation a sniper/hired killer/whatever will turn up on the doorstep any night soon. Discrete, professional, good success rate.

    • Drive mad significant other by providing evidence of marital straying.
      Only works if there is usable material present in the private life of the target, of course. Many many married targets will qualify. If not already present, planting a deadly weapon in the house is mandatory.

    • Hack law enforcement systems to include target on most wanted terrorist list.
      This will work quite nicely for (shy) bachelors.

    • Hack car, drive off bridge.
      Hacking airplanes lacks precision, so...

    • Hack medical system and tinker with prescription drug doses.
      Allergy info will help here, a lot.

  3. Have a plan B in reserve for any survivors.
    For these and such persons that live off the grid you'll need to contract some hired killers directly. And/or poison the office coffee machine.


Broadcast fake news stories that the nations are divided into two groups, let's call them Blue and Red, and convince everyone that they are one of the two colors, and then give them any excuse to not like each other, and then sit back and let biology do the rest. As long as the machines can control the news narrative, various propaganda experiments over the last few decades show that the machines could get the populace into a pretty nasty frenzy fairly quickly.

  • $\begingroup$ Unbelievable! You're just making stuff up and broadcasting it on the internet! Do I need to hashtag this comment so people know what kind of content this is?! $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon I'm glad it is unbelievable. If people started believing it was a viable strategy, they might do something about it, and then my plot to take over the world wouldn't be nearly so effective! $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 19:38

JavaScriptCoder dramatically changed this question after I came up with an answer

The original question was how to make cyber war lethal. I even addressed issues with a military-only option before the question change. It is my belief that cyberwarfare will not be clean or tidy. Once it starts, civilians will die.

Shut down the electrical grid

  • Shut down all computers in hospitals
  • Shut down all air traffic control systems
  • Shut down all banking systems

You could skip the first steps, but if you could do coordinated attacks, all of these systems usually have their own backup power. You could try and order a full scale attack with the military and hope the retaliation wipes out the country. There's enough protections in place that this would most likely not work. But if you're looking for scenarios, it's a great one. Don't turn our military on our civilians, turn another military into the attacker.


  • Shut down the electrical grid

Chaos will rear it's head and do the follow-up work for you. With no power, many industries stop working. With so much emphasis on electronic currency, most countries would fail to be able to function in a normal fashion.

I bet the ppeppers are the first to go. ;)

Good luck with anarchy.

  • $\begingroup$ the op specifically asks that "The stratagem should cause as little harm as possible to civilians" $\endgroup$
    – IEW
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 6:23
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    $\begingroup$ @IEW JavaScriptCoder dramatically changed his question from yesterday. The original question was how to make cyber war lethal. Guess what? Any cyber war going after military is going to have civilian casualties. War isn't clean. $\endgroup$
    – gwally
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 18:20
  • Hack the home automation in the homes of the personnel or in the office where the servers stand. Try to create lethal effects -- fans in the air conditioning overheat and ignite accumulated dust, meanwhile the light goes off, and so on.
  • Hack driverless cars or delivery drones and cause accidents on the road.
  • Go into medical systems and cause them to prescribe a lethal cocktail.
  • Cause the police to go after them, with "when in doubt, shoot" orders. Make them appear to be dangerous terrorists, maybe.
  • For that matter, get them arrested and they're out of the picture, too. Repeat until there is no fully qualified replacement.

As ideas get stolen all the time, I'll cite this one from Neal Stephenson's 'Snow Crash', just because it's so hilariously insane:


Create a computer virus, that is written in an ancient Sumerian dialect. Because Sumerian is old, obviously this means also that it's primitive, in a sense that it is somehow fundamentally understood by your brain's visual center (an old part of your brain).
In this way you can write a virus that generates images. Those images encode some Sumerian shutdown-commands into your brain if you look at them. Next, you go crazy and then you die.

So essentially you just have to have this second layer of 'kill yourself' commands in some porn and find out what porn the enemy likes.

  • Have the heating system hacked. to much pressure in the boiler and BOOM. (there are safeties, but they are also controlled electronical)
  • freezer gets hacked, and overheats -> fire
  • pacemaker gets hacked...
  • get personnel fired/arrested with illegal stuff on there computers.
  • leak classified information and blame a worker
  • post on social media in the name of one worker...
  • server gets overclocked so they will more likely destroy themselves
  • yeah, self driving cars or cars with automatic parking help.
  • steal all their money so they can't pay electric bill
  • hack electric company and make them believe they didn't get paid

I assume you're looking to justify something like the "Ghost in the Shell" precedent of people apparently being electrocuted when they're hacked and/or how people in the Matrix die when something happens to them in the virtual world.

Normally electrocution wouldn't be possible however if the people in your world have invasive brain-computer interfaces like implanted electrode arrays then taking control of said interface could enable an attacker to attack the person's brain directly. It seems unlikely that there wouldn't be some sort of failsafe mechanism to prevent excessive voltage being supplied to the electrodes however perhaps the attacker uses it to induce an epileptic fit (implanted electrodes are currently used to treat severe epilepsy) or overwhelm the target with nonsensical/nauseating sensations, severe motion sickness might not kill the target but it could make them wish they were dead.


People seem to forget there are many ways to covertly use technology to eliminate you opponent in the right manner:

  • Drones: use personal drones and modify them to have a gun or contain explosives to attack your opponent. Even if you don't directly want to kill the target, you can damage critical infrastructure this way.
  • Steal information from places like social media and money through hacking. The money can help you purchase what you need to destroy the other side while damaging their finances and ingraining paranoia. You can use hacks to gain money by directly attacking your targets or convincing others to digitally give you less traceable currencies like Bitcoin. North Korea used cyberattacks to make $2 billion US Dollars.
  • Target power grids, trains of target, or even the stock market to damage the economy of the opponent's nation or source of income. Take advantage of any chaos caused by economic collapse, power outages, and train derailments/problems however you see fit.

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