President Vladimir Putin's offer to reset Russian-US cooperation in international information security (IIS) comes at the right time when the two powers hit new lows in relations and drift toward a world without nuclear arms control, experts told Sputnik
MOSCOW (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 25th September, 2020) President Vladimir Putin's offer to reset Russian-US cooperation in international information security (IIS) comes at the right time when the two powers hit new lows in relations and drift toward a world without nuclear arms control, experts told Sputnik.
On Friday, Putin invited the US to adopt a large-scale program to reboot cooperation in international information security. The Russian leader pushed for a continuous and effective functioning of the communication channels between competent agencies through Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers, Computer Emergency Readiness Teams and high-level officials in charge of IIS.
According to Putin, the two countries should work out a treaty to prevent cybersecurity incidents, similar to the 1972 US-Soviet Incidents at Sea agreement. He also suggested that Russia and the US exchange pledges on non-interference in elections and other internal affairs of each other, be it via digital tools or in any other way.
"This initiative is extremely timely due to unprecedented tensions in US-Russia relations. According to the opinion of the increasing numbers of foreign policy experts we are 'sleepwalking into nuclear catastrophe,'" Professor Edward Lozansky, the director of Russia House in Washington and president of American University in Moscow, commented to Sputnik.
Putin's offer comes as the two countries are deadlocked in New START talks, with some four months left before the expiry of this last major arms control treaty. The US is pushing for Russia to sign up to a presidential memorandum by the November election, warning that the "admission fee" will rise if President Donald Trump is reelected.
According to Kevin Curran, a professor of cybersecurity at Ulster University, Putin's offer on IIS looks like "an interesting move" in these circumstances.
"Relations of late have been edgy but it is crucial that two of the world's largest powers can agree on a comprehensive program of practical measures to reboot their relations in the field of security in the use of information and communication technologies," Curran, who is also an executive co-director of the Legal Innovation Centre and group leader for the Cybersecurity & Web technologies Research Group, told Sputnik.
In August 2018, the expert recalled, Trump rolled back a series of Obama-era classified rules on how the US government can launch cyberattacks on foreign targets known as Presidential Policy Directive 20.
"The memorandum required that an extensive interagency process take place before the US government embarks on any cyberattacks. Trump reversed the rules to try and ease some of those restrictions, which critics argued were detrimental to launching the attacks quickly," he noted.
All this makes it a pressing issue to develop international cooperation in information security.
The US is yet to respond to Russia's offer, but experts are skeptical that it would embrace the idea.
"In the Washington's overheated atmosphere during presidential elections any positive response from Trump or his administration will be considered as him playing into Putin's hands or falling in his trap ... Therefore, to my sincere regret, I do not expect any enthusiasm from the White House at least until the end of the election season," Lozansky said.
In the professor's opinion, Putin's initiative is still "very important even if it falls on the deaf ears."
William C. Banks, emeritus professor of law and professor of public administration and international affairs at the Syracuse University College of Law, agrees that the US response would be "shaped by the outcome of the November 3 election."
"Whoever is, president of the US next year should agree to an international dialog on information security," he told Sputnik.
When asked whether he believes that a treaty to prevent cybersecurity incidents, similar to the 1972 US-Soviet Incidents at Sea Agreement, is possible, Banks replied in the affirmative.
"But an agreement should be multilateral because information security is a global problem. The malicious actors cannot always be easily traced quickly, and state sponsors are not limited to Russia and the US. The key to a treaty or agreement is enforcement � how will the commitments be enforced, who will decide whether violations have occurred, what sanctions will be in place to discourage disinformation activities?" the expert remarked.
"Major powers are already thinking forward to a new era in which cyber is used to win conflicts before they appear to start. They conduct research into quantum computers so as to create a technology that could break any form of encryption. Many are using bots that could not only replicate real people on Twitter but paralyze cyberdefences too. There are many hurdles before we see any form of global cyberharmony," the expert said.
The professor of cybersecurity therefore doubts that the world will witness the emergence of information control similar to arms control, as governments "know they can get away with cyberattacks," which can be "difficult to attribute if executed with skill."
"Any government can make it look like the attack came from another region. Unlike nuclear weapons, there is no clear protocol for when cyberwarfare should be used, or how to respond to an attack. All scenarios include a cyber barrage aimed at civilians e.g. frying power grids, stopping trains, silencing mobile phones and overwhelming the internet. In the worst-case scenarios, food and water would begin to run out; hospitals would turn people away. Separated from their electronics, and thus their connections, Americans would panic, or turn against one another. The major powers are planning for this scenario because it knows many of its own war plans open with similarly paralyzing cyberattacks against its adversaries, reflecting new strategies to try to win wars before a shot is fired," he explained.
Curran did not rule out "some sorts of general agreement on extreme case boundaries," stressing that "it will be some time before we have clear international IT controls which the major powers adhere to."