World leaders meet to discuss cyberwar rules of engagement

Hague convention for state-backed hacking?


Rules of engagement for the deployment of cyber-weapons need to be developed, an international security conference is due to be told later today.

The influential EastWest Institute is due to present proposals for the cyberspace equivalent of the Geneva convention at the Munich Security Conference, which has included a debate on cyber-security on its agenda for the first time this year. Delegates to the conference include UK Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The discussion on rules for cyber-conflict follows months after the infamous Stuxnet worm was blamed for infecting industrial control systems and sabotaging centrifuges at controversial Iranian nuclear facilities. Some have described the malware as the world's first cyber-weapon though cyber-espionage in many guises has undoubtedly been practiced by intelligence agencies across the world for many years.

Computer systems underpin the delivery of essential services, including utilities and telecoms and well as banking and government services. Critical national infrastructure systems are most commonly privately held, at least in the US and Europe. Although attacks against various critical systems are commonplace they tend to be low level information-stealing or denial of service exploits. Many independent experts in cyber-security dismiss talk of cyberwar as hype – driven more by the marketing departments of US security contractor giants seeking a new market in cyberspace than by reality on the ground.

Others argue that cyberwarfare (or information warfare) risks are all too real and illustrated by the denial of services attacks that blitzed Estonia off the web and the Operation Aurora assaults against Google and other high-tech firms as well as Stuxnet, a strain of malware that might inspire other forms of malware that attack industrial control kit, perhaps indiscriminately.

The rules of cyberwarfare seek to establish protected domains – such as hospital and schools – that are off limits for attack. Proportionality in response to attacks and identifying the source of attacks is also likely to enter the debate.

British government sources told the BBC that they were not convinced of the need for a treaty governing conflict in cyberspace, while they conceded the need for a discussion on proportional response – and, more particularly, on attributing the source of attack. It is far more difficult to identify the source of a cyber-assault, which can easily be launched from networks of compromised PCs in third-party countries, than the origins of a conventional military assault, which is often proceeded by the gathering of troops and tanks.

Government sources told BBC Newsnight: "How strongly should a state respond to an attack when you do not know who did it, where they did it from or what the intention was? In conventional military terms these questions are easier to answer – not so in the cyber-world." ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021