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EU considers baking new norms of cyber-war into security policies

Plan to paint US, China and Russia as rogues gather steam

The European Parliament has been asked to adopt a new set of “norms” about online conflict.

The norms were developed by the Global Commission on the Stability for Cyberspace (GCSC), a group backed and funded by the governments of The Netherlands, France and Singapore, together with Microsoft and The Internet Society, that works to safeguard the Internet. One of the ways the GCSC thinks it can achieve its mission is by defining rules of cyber-war and having as many nations as possible sign up to them. As explained to The Register by GCSC commissioner Bill Woodcock, the group knows that rules alone can’t stop nations' offensive actions in cyberspace, but feels that if rules are in place and widely-endorsed, it’s easier for the international community to condemn governments that choose to ignore accepted practices.

The GCSC’s norms suggest that core internet protocols like DNS, border gateway protocol and IPv6, and the infrastructure that keeps them running, should be off-limits during cyber-conflict because of the likely unpleasant effects on civilians.

Support for that idea has strengthened a little thanks to recently-proposed amendments to the EU Cybersecurity Act that call for “the development and promotion of policies that would sustain the general availability or integrity of the public core of the open internet, which provide the essential functionality to the Internet as a whole and which underpin its normal operation” and go onto mention DNS, BGP, and IPv6.

The amendments include that language because “The protection of the public core of the internet is an emerging norm that is supported by the Global Commission on the Stability for Cyberspace, which received its mandate from the conclusions of the 4th Global Conference on CyberSpace … as well as the 5th Report of the UN Group of Governmental Experts.”

The GCSC’s approach has also been suggested as worthy of inclusion in a resolution on Cyber Defense being considering by the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs.

There’s still lots of negotiating before this stuff gets to a vote, never mind passes, but the mere fact GCSC-formulated norms have made it this far suggest its approach is starting to work. And if the European Parliament adopts GCSC norms, it will be easier to suggest that other nations do likewise, a little harder for nations to ignore them and perhaps one day lead to more civilised cyber-wars. ®

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