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Microsoft boss calls for Geneva Convention for cyber conflict and warfare

16 February 2017

Following the agreement, security companies said they noticed diminished activity originating from China, which at least circumstantially validated using diplomacy to approach cybersecurity issues.

At least, that's the image that Microsoft President Brad Smith appeared to be trying to invoke as he called on the world's governments to host a "Digital Geneva Convention".

"Just as the world's governments came together in 1949 to adopt the Fourth Geneva Convention to protect civilians in times of war, we need a Digital Geneva Convention that will commit governments to implement the norms that have been developed to protect civilians on the internet in times of peace", Smith wrote in a blog post Tuesday.

Such a "digital convention" should also set up an independent organization that brings the public and private sectors together to investigate and release detail publicly on nation-state attacks, he added.

The issue of nation-state hacking has heated up in the aftermath of the US election, with the intelligence community's assessment that Russian Federation sought to sway the election in favor of President Donald Trump.

In a meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, former President Barack Obama called cyber security "a global problem", and stressed the importance of "developing an architecture to govern behavior in cyberspace that is enforceable and clear". However, there are few global agreements about the acceptable uses of cyber attacks by nation-states to achieve foreign policy and national security objectives.

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"That is a step forward, but more than that, we all need to recognise that we are a long way from declaring victory", said Smith.

Technology companies, not armies, are the first responders when cyber attacks occur, he noted. Smith's Convention would serve as a watchdog, but it's unclear how it would enforce them.

"Above all else, nation state attacks call on us as employees, as an industry, as private citizens, to ask ourselves one fundamental question: what are we going to do".

Smith opened by defining the cyberwarfare battlefield: "It's a different kind of space: Not only can we not find [cyberspace] in the physical world, it is us".

Recently, Microsoft and over a hundred other major tech companies filed legal briefs in support of the courts challenging President Donald Trump's executive order that temporarily bans individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US. That could mean not building backdoors into programs sold in other countries and not taking part in work to create cyberweapons. Smith's point was that people and companies have to push for it. Most notably it has waged a long-term legal battle to keep the US government from accessing European customer data stored in Ireland, a battle Smith was instrumental in waging as Microsoft's chief legal officer.

Microsoft boss calls for Geneva Convention for cyber conflict and warfare