The Geneva Convention has always stated that when it comes to times of war civilian lives are off limits, and that anyone caught killing civilians could face being charged with war crimes. However, in increasing our use of technology in warfare, civilians could find themselves without that protection.
Warfare is becoming more and more centered around the use of technology, with things like drones being the go to weapon of the modern military, and then there is the more covert use of hackers to conduct cyber-attack against enemy forces and governments.
However, this use of forces that may never see a battlefield raises some serious legal implications. Ever since the creation of the Geneva Convention, civilians have been 'protected' from being killed by enemy forces for whatever reason, but what if those civilians, operating under the auspices of the military forces become a hacker army whose sole intent is to perform electronic attacks against foreign governments and military forces.
To address this legal quandary, a set of proposed international rules has been commissioned by NATO and put together along with the International Committee of the Red Cross and US Cyber Command to address the fact that civilian hackers could become legitimate targets. The document is titled "Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare" and was written by 20 legal scholars and practitioners to come to some consensus at how current international law applies to cyber warfare.
Needless to say, this has all kinds of people across the web up in arms with concerns regarding some key points, one being:
Civilians are not prohibited from directly participating in cyber operations amounting to hostilities, but forfeit their protection from attacks for such time as they so participate.
To make this a bit less legal sounding, not to mention easier to understand, here's the plain English version: While civilians are normally off-limits in a time of war, they stop being off-limits as targets if they engage in cyber-attacks of any kind.
This rule basically creates an exception to the Geneva Convention rules when it comes to targeting civilians.