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Global cyber war treaties urgently needed: Bruce Schneier

Security expert says we are at the beginning of a cyber war arms race

Rules of engagement between different countries should be established before a major Web-based attack takes place according to BT Group’s US chief security technology officer, Bruce Schneier.

Speaking at a BT briefing in Sydney, he said the world was in the early years of a cyber war arms race, something that’s not in anyone's best interests.

“Unless this is stopped, we will see an increased militarisation of cyberspace and that affects the protocols and networks we use,” he said.

“There’s a doctrine called preparing the battlefield where countries will do things that aren’t overtly offensive but prepare them for later on.”

According to Schneier, under that doctrine, both the United States and China had been penetrating each other’s networks and leaving behind malicious pieces of code called logic bombs which could be used later.

“This is concerning because first off, the [logic bombs] can go off accidently and it crosses a line.”

To prevent this from happening, Schneier called for cyber war treaties, similar to nuclear weapon treaties agreed to by countries such as the US and Russia, to be developed and signed.

“I’d like to see decisions about what cyber weapons we are building and using to be approved by the [US] president because there is too much chance of it getting out of hand,” he said.

According to Schneier, the Stuxnet worm which infected a nuclear facility in Iran during June 2009 was an example of how to create a highly targeted and well-written cyber weapon and it “still went wrong” as there were reports that it managed to escape the facility.

“It’s been blamed for a satellite outage in India and an industrial plant in China which just happened to have a similar industrial control system,” he said.

“Even if you target your weapons they can still have collateral damage in other countries.”

In addition to the treaties, Schneier suggested countries establish rules of engagement in cyberspace and understand what he called cyber mercenaries and non-state actors, who range from terrorists to “kids playing politics.”

“Last year, the group Anonymous told the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation [NATO] not to mess with it. We’re not supposed to be living in a world where a bunch of guys threaten NATO.”

In conclusion, Schenier said that people also needed to stop feeding their own fears about cyber war.

“There is a lot of rhetoric out there because it’s financially profitable and a lot of US companies are making good money out of cyber war contracts.”

“This rhetoric ratchets up and just makes everything worse. The more we calm down and discuss this rationally, the more we can look at cyber war, the broader advanced persistent threat [APT] and how that affects us,” he said.

Got a security tip-off? Contact Hamish Barwick at hamish_barwick at idg.com.au

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

More about: APT, BT, BT Group, NATO
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