In the Media

Who should fight cyberspace's battles? | Peter Sommer

PUBLISHED October 31, 2011

Online crime and warfare will need to be addressed in ways that the FCO's conference doesn't grasp The security services warn that cyber-attacks are on the rise . According to the director of GCHQ, attacks on both government and business have seen an "exponential rise" over the last two years. But Iain Lobban's comments, timed to boost this week's London Conference on Cyberspace , underline more the recent arms race in cyberthreat rhetoric. The Foreign Office has high hopes for the conference: William Hague has talked of the need to identify "norms" of cyberspace behaviour . A formal treaty is out ? there are problems defining terms such as "cyberspace", "cyber-attack" and "cyberweapon". Any enforceable arms control treaty needs an inspection mechanism, but how to distinguish any small office from a cyber-attack unit? And treaties are between nation states, but in cyberspace hacktivists, terrorists, recreational hackers and criminals are all capable of inflicting substantial damage. For now, statements that certain activity is good or bad are easier to achieve. Hague's "norms" included recognition of international law, universal access, tolerance, innovation, respect for privacy and intellectual property, collective action against cybercrime and promotion of competition. But many of these are not norms as much as ambitions with a distinctly western cast. The conference's themes are vague: there is scarcely a nod to existing debates about the internet. How far will it continue to evolve in its current consensual model without interference from states? How do we balance freedom of expression with a desire to limit the availability of "bad stuff" ? whatever we think is pornography or an attack on "fundamental values"? This entails profound cultural conflicts. At present we tackle crime via the Convention on Cybercrime , which makes extradition easier by harmonising definitions of cybercrime offences. Some 32 countries have so far ratified the convention, but nations such as Russia, China and the Bric countries express concern about loss of sovereignty. The next, very difficult, stage in cybercrime enforcement would be international cyber police, able to investigate without notifying local law enforcement. What powers should be given to national and international law enforcement to monitor net activity, and who will watch the watchers? How far should internet service providers be asked to monitor their users' activity? What will happen to net neutrality? The Internet Governance Forum , established in 2006 by the UN, already provides a place for international discussion of these issues and more, while the Nato-funded Tallinn Manual initiative has lawyers trawling existing international law to produce a law of cyberspace. The London Conference seems to duplicate these initiatives. It could have aimed for something more immediately achievable ? perhaps an agreement on identifying medical and humanitarian resources on the internet and protecting them. Or that the essential fabric of the internet, its cables, exchanges and technical protocols, should never be attacked. Could that be extended to the facilities used for the international transfer of funds? There is surely a strong global interest in making these relatively uncontroversial norms explicit. The designation of cybersecurity as a "tier one" risk in the strategic defence and security review was not simply based on fear of sophisticated cyber-attack; it reflects the heavy dependence of the UK economy on complex interlocking computer systems and networks from which there is no way back. The FCO, with its core expertise in traditional diplomacy, may not be the best ministry to tackle these issues. Cybercrime Internet Crime William Hague Foreign policy Police Peter Sommer © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds