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Britain Urges ‘Acceptable’ Cyberspace Behavior

February 4, 2011

The Financial Times reported on Friday that Britain is calling for countries to agree on rules for “acceptable behavior” in cyberspace during a time of concern about what is seen as a growing security threat.

FT reported that William Hague, U.K. foreign secretary, will offer to host a conference in London this year “to lay the basis for a set of standards on how countries should act in cyberspace.”

According to the report, Hague gives three examples of attacks on British interests, including those directed at his staff and a defense contractor.

Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables have detailed allegations of cyberattacks and intrusion by China and Russia, FT said.

No foreign minister has called for a comprehensive set of principles that can govern the Internet around the globe.

Hague said during the Munich Security Conference on Friday that he will urge nations to adopt standards that protect Internet freedom and contain the “darker side of cyberspace.”

“There is a need for a more comprehensive, structured dialogue to begin to build consensus among like-minded countries,” FT reported he will say.

However, British officials view a formal arms control-style agreement as an unlikely outcome.

Any agreement faces diplomatic hurdles because it must forge a consensus on a threat that is fast-changing and intertwined with sovereign rights and the covert operations of intelligence services.

According to the report, Internet-based threats are racing up the national security agenda for may industrialized nations, prompting the U.S. to set up a Cyber Command and the U.K. to establish a defense cyber operations group.

The Stuxnet work that damaged Iran’s nuclear facilities has revealed the disruptive power of malicious software.

“We do not underestimate the difficulties ahead,” Hague will say, according to FT. “Many countries do not share our view of the positive, democratizing impact of the internet, and others are actively working against us in a hostile manner.”

Nigel Inkster, an expert on cyber threats, told FT:  “Thus far, the discussion on how to set international standards on cyber has been very low profile and largely confined to the margins of the UN General Assembly. What Hague [will say] ratchets it up the agenda and gives it an international prominence.”

He added: “There is clearly a case for agreeing some norms of conduct on the internet which reduce the risk that actions will be taken that cross red lines. If this initiative results in some clearly agreed red lines then that would be very good.”

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