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London Conference on Cyberspace Opens, Can Cyberwarfare Be Curbed?

Posted on the 01 November 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
London Conference on Cyberspace opens, can cyberwarfare be curbed?

British Foreign Secretary William Hague? Photo credit: Drown

Cyberwarfare is undeniably an increasing problem. According to the director of GCHQ, attacks on both government and business have seen an “exponential rise” over the last two years. Last year, the British government declared cybersecurity as a “tier one” risk in the strategic defence and security review. But what can actually be done to make cyberspace a safer place for governments, businesses and the world’s billions of casual net surfers?

The beginning of the London Conference on Cyberspace, which is being hosted by Foreign Secretary William Hague and is aimed at encouraging greater international cooperation in managing the internet and combatting cyberwarfare, has prompted the commentariat to examine the problem in far greater detail than is the norm.

Profound cultural conflicts. Writing at The Guardian’s Comment in Free, cybersecurity expert Peter Sommer argued that the reach of the Conference is perhaps too short: “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.” Sommer insisted that the “next, very difficult, stage in cybercrime enforcement would be international cyber police, able to investigate without notifying local law enforcement.” However, Sommer said that while an international cyber police may well be needed, its establishment is not without its own problems:  “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?” Given the highly technical nature of the problems in cyberspace, Sommer concluded that the Foreign Office, “with its core expertise in traditional diplomacy, may not be the best ministry to tackle these issues.”

“It is essential that the debate is as inclusive as possible, everyone has an interest in these issues and no one person or body controls the internet”, said Hague at a reception for delegates, reported The Financial Times.

Networked neighbourhoods. General Sir Graeme Lamb, a former commander of Special Forces and Colonel Richard Williams, a former commander of the SAS, co-authored a piece in The Times (£), in which they argued that “a nation of cyberactivists can keep the peace” and that “governments should use the public as ‘first responders’ in the face of disorder.” They insisted that the Conference is “an opportunity to push forward a radical, new way of combating cyber disorder.” The military duo urged the government to place information age security “at the centre” of how they respond to civil disorder: “The free-flowing speed and dynamism of cyber can and should be harnessed by the authorities to neutralise the actions of those that seek to create chaos and disorder. For instance, by linking all parts of society into a ‘networked neighbourhood’ we have the potential to allow everyone to contribute to national security by crowding out the opportunity for minorities to create chaos or terror. If this is done properly, cyber-connected citizens become part of the security system. They become ‘first responders’ in the same way as they willingly volunteer for firefighting or RNLI lifeboat crews.”

Whitehall officials say that cybercrime costs the economy £27 billion a year and that last year some 40 percent of people had their PCs attacked by viruses, noted The Financial Times.

Freedom of expression must not be hampered. On his blog, MP Tom Watson, who is best-known for his dogged investigation into phone hacking, flagged up an open letter from 11 organisations and experts on freedom of expression to Hague. The letter argued that Britain’s desire to promote freedom of expression and privacy internationally is being hampered by domestic policy: “The government now has an historic opportunity to support technologies that promote rather than undermine people’s political and social empowerment. We call for the UK government to seize this opportunity to reject censorship and surveillance, domestically and internationally, that undermines people’s rights to express themselves, organize or communicate freely. That is the only way to both enshrine the rights of citizens in the UK and to support these principles internationally.” The full letter is available on the Open Rights Group website.

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