US Secretary of State lays out 5 principles for international cyber security

john kerry cybersecurity
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks about cyber security and Internet freedom at Korea University in Seoul, Korea, May 18, 2015.
Credit: REUTERS/Saul Loeb/Pool

On Monday the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, gave a wide ranging speech on cyber security and international cooperation at the Korea University in South Korea. The speech touched on many aspects of how the Internet has enriched the lives of many across the world. During his speech Mr. Kerry gave examples of children in refugee camps using the Internet for education, of fisherman in Mozambique being able to manage their fish stock thanks to the Internet, and how a doctors in Cameroon are able to remotely diagnose cardiac issues over the web. Mr. Kerry also highlighted how the Internet supported movements such as the Arab Spring , and has enabled freedom of expression and freedom of speech for those living in oppressed regimes.

Citing that control of the Internet by governments is the anathema to freedom as oppressive governments would use such control to suppress dissident voices, Mr Kerry called on other countries to join the United States in supporting America’s policy to promote cyber stability and to work with industry to keep the Internet open and free.

It is interesting to note that Mr Kerry chose to give this speech while visiting South Korea. In 2013 South Korea was subject to a wave of cyber attacks which included Distributed Denial of Service attacks against government and news media websites, the defacement of some sites, and earlier in the 2013 the infection of thousands of PCs in media organizations which resulted in data being wiped from those computers. South Korea has claimed these attacks came from IP addresses located in North Korea and that the attacks were sponsored by the North Korean government. Mr. Kerry also called out North Korea for its aggressive role in cyberspace and cited the attacks last year against Sony Pictures Entertainment which resulted in the US Government imposing sanctions against North Korea.

Telling the audience that “the basic rules of international law apply in cyberspace” Mr Kerry outlined five principles that if all countries should follow would “contribute substantially to conflict prevention and stability in time of peace.”  These principles are;

  • First, no country should conduct or knowingly support online activity that intentionally damages or impedes the use of another country’s critical infrastructure.
  • Second, no country should seek either to prevent emergency teams from responding to a cybersecurity incident, or allow its own teams to cause harm.
  • Third, no country should conduct or support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, trade secrets, or other confidential business information for commercial gain.
  • Fourth, every country should mitigate malicious cyber activity emanating from its soil, and they should do so in a transparent, accountable and cooperative way.
  • And fifth, every country should do what it can to help states that are victimized by a cyberattack.

Mr Kerry also called on all nations to work together to create a common framework for international cooperation in cyberspace and urged all countries to join to the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime.

Warning that any country who should seek to disrupt cyberspace or to attack others “will be held accountable for their actions”, Mr Kerry stated the “United States reserves the right to use all necessary means, including economic, trade and diplomatic tools, as appropriate in order to defend our nation and our partners, our friends, our allies.”

Many will see this speech as a very encouraging one and it may be the start of dialogue across many nations to work together to form a peaceful and stable online world. However, others will also point to how the United States itself has been called to task for allegedly launching a cyber attack against another nation in the form of Stuxnet and the allegations from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden on how the NSA, and other western government spy agencies, have compromised the security and privacy of individuals and companies around the world.

Open dialogue will be essential to ensuring a safe and secure Internet for this generation and the generations to come. Perhaps this speech may be the first opening rounds of that dialogue.

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