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Risk

12/14/2009
07:37 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
Commentary
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U.S. And Russia Talk Internet Security

According to news reports, the American and Russian governments are engaged in talks designed to pave a way for a more secure Internet and a treaty to limit certain types of cyberweapons.

According to news reports, the American and Russian governments are engaged in talks designed to pave a way for a more secure Internet and a treaty to limit certain types of cyberweapons.For awhile now, the U.S. and Russia have been talking about crafting a treaty that would aim to improve Internet security and place some type of control over digital weapons. The talks haven't progressed far, and based on this NY Times story that ran this summer, the friction stems from a difference in philosophy. The Russians want to handle international cyber security with a treaty, just like those used for nuclear arms and biological weapons. While the U.S. wants cyber-security treated more as a law enforcement effort.

Now, according to a story that ran on the NYTimes.com over the weekend, the talks have, somewhat, progressed:

Many countries, including the United States, are developing weapons for use on computer networks that are ever more integral to the operations of everything from banks to electrical power systems to government offices. They include "logic bombs" that can be hidden in computers to halt them at crucial times or damage circuitry; "botnets" that can disable or spy on Web sites and networks; or microwave radiation devices that can burn out computer circuits miles away.

The Russians have focused on three related issues, according to American officials involved in the talks that are part of a broader thaw in American-Russian relations known as the "reset" that also include negotiations on a new nuclear disarmament treaty. In addition to continuing efforts to ban offensive cyberweapons, they have insisted on what they describe as an issue of sovereignty calling for a ban on "cyberterrorism."

My take: if we are ever going to solve cyber-crime and limit cyberattacks, we are going to need more international law enforcement cooperation. How that works out in a way that is acceptable to most nations, I'm not sure. I don't see the Chinese or the Russians agreeing to searches being conducted by forgien agents on systems within their borders. Nor do I see the U.S. allowing the same. But there's certainly plenty of room for more openess and cooperation among nations when it comes to cyberlaw.

As for the effectiveness of such a cyberwarfare treaty: my hopes are not high. Viruses, worms, keystroke loggers, logic bombs, and spyware can be written by most anyone. Botnet development skills are widespread, too. There's no way to control the development and eventual use of weapons that can be developed in anyone's bedroom on a notebook. And it's too easy for the origination of such attacks to be obfuscated to the point that it's impossible to reasonably prove who launched them.

And the countries answer to risks associated with microwave radiation, or E-bombs, is to harden the power grid from such attacks.

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