June 28, 2009

US, Russia Disagree On Approach To Cyber Threats

The United States and Russia are locked in a fundamental dispute over how to counter the growing threat of cyberattacks that could be disastrous for computer systems and the Internet, according to the New York Times. In less than two weeks, President Barack Obama will be meeting with Russian leaders to try to come to an agreement on how to deal with the threats.

The newspaper cited an unnamed senior State Department official as saying that both nations were in agreement that cyberspace is an emerging battleground. So far, that is all they can agree on.

Both sides are expected to address the subject when Obama visits Russia next month as well as at the General Assembly of the United Nations in November.

Russia wants an international treaty similar to those negotiated for chemical weapons and has continually promoted that approach in a series of meetings this year, the report said. And from where they stand, the absence of a treaty is allowing a form of an arms race that could have dangerous consequences.

The United States argues that a treaty is not necessary, but rather advocates improved cooperation among international law enforcement groups is what is needed.

U.S. officials say the disagreement over approach has fettered international law-enforcement cooperation, especially considering that a substantial amount of the attacks against American government targets are originating in China and Russia.

"We really believe it's defense, defense, defense," The Times quotes the State Department official as saying, who requested anonymity. "They want to constrain offense. We needed to be able to criminalize these horrible 50,000 attacks we were getting a day."

Any agreement on cyberspace poses challenges because of the many implications of censorship of the Internet, sovereignty and participants who might not be subject to a treaty. China is already under a lot of scrutiny for its ever-encroaching control and supervision over the Internet and its content.

Many countries have developed cyber weaponry such as "logic bombs", "botnets", and microwave radiation devices to contend with the growing threats. Logic bombs can be hidden in computers to interrupt them at crucial times or damage circuitry, and "botnets" can disable or spy on websites and networks, and microwave radiation devices are used to burn out computer circuits from miles away, the paper said.

The United States is trying to improve cybersecurity by building relationships among international law-enforcement agencies. State Department officials hold out as a model the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime, which took effect in 2004 and has been signed by 22 nations, including the United States but not Russia or China.

Russia argues that the European convention on cybercrime gives the police the authority to open investigations of suspected online crime originating in another country without first informing local authorities, which infringes on traditional ideas of sovereignty.

The United States and China have yet to hold high-level talks on cyberwar issues, but there is some evidence that the Chinese are being sought out by Russia for support of an arms control treaty for cyberspace, according to specialists.

Whichever approach prevails, arms control experts believe major governments are heading down the path toward a cyber arms race.

Obama is expected to be in Russia on July 6-8 on his third major foreign trip to hopefully improve relations with Russia that had been terribly strained under the former administration of George W. Bush.