Saturday, December 01, 2007

States flex muscles in cyberspace

On Thursday McAfee published their Virtual Criminology Report 2007, commissioned from myself, Prof Lilian Edwards and Prof Eugene Spafford. Our main finding was that this is the year that states have really started flexing their cybermuscles, with incursions into sensitive government networks by China reported by the UK, US and Germany over the summer and three weeks of attacks on Estonia during May.

While China has rejected our report, MI5 Director-General Jonathan Evans wrote on Wednesday to the CEOs of 300 UK companies warning them of Chinese surveillance. I just spoke to the World Service and Radio 4 about this.

Of course, countries such as the US and UK conduct similar electronic espionage. As the former CIA director James Woolsey said in 2000:

"[A]pproximately 95 percent of U.S. intelligence collection with respect to economic matters, which itself is only one of a reasonable number of U.S. intelligence targets — but with respect to economic matters, 95 percent of our intelligence collection is from open sources. Five percent is essentially secrets that we steal. We steal secrets with espionage, with communications, with reconnaissance satellites."

Dr Brian Gladman has compared the online intelligence battles of the major states and their proxies as the 21st century equivalent of state-sponsored piracy:
"Nations gave up their sponsorship of piracy then when they came to realise that they each gained more from a safe global trading environment than they did in encouraging pirates to plunder the trade routes of other nations. We are now in an analogous situation in cyberspace with some nations claiming to support the global information society — a development which requires respect for the information assets of others — whilst secretly pursuing economic intelligence collection in what amounts to a direct modern analogue of the State sponsored piracy of past ages.

"The global information society (and the associated global electronic trading environment) cannot truly flourish while nations sponsor (or are perceived by others to sponsor) information piracy in cyberspace."

The international law of the sea took centuries to develop. Will we see an online equivalent in our lifetimes?

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