x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

War on cyber crime cannot be fought alone

The International community must show greater transparency and better cooperation in the fight against cyber-warfare.

Earlier this week, the US government broadened its definition of what constitutes an "act of war" to include cyber sabotage. As one US military official told the Wall Street Journal: "If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks."

Such bluster might win praise from computer security experts who see the threat of online terrorism as this century's A-bomb. But the American move could set a dangerous precedent in an era where computer crime and online warfare is poorly defined, and where international cooperation on eradication woefully inadequate. We hope they will reconsider.

Details of the Pentagon's formal cyber strategy won't be out until next month, but questions are mounting: How might such a strategy be implemented in real time? And might this give other nations cause to take similar action? Iran's nuclear infrastructure was hijacked last year - by a programme widely believed to have American fingerprints. Would Tehran have been justified by retaliating?

Yesterday brought the latest example of how challenging the threat from cyber security continues to be. Chinese hackers allegedly swiped Gmail account details from hundreds of senior US and South Korean government officials. China rejected claims they authorised the theft, but the case is nonetheless instructive of the hurdles.

With no clearly defined geographical boundaries or online regulations, identifying perpetrators and motives is difficult. Proving a group or country's guilt to a degree that justifies a military response is almost impossible.

As a business hub for multinationals and banks from around the world, the UAE is particularly vulnerable to these attacks. As we've reported in the past, the nation's financial infrastructure is under constant attack from criminals. The Government has made cyber security a priority, and a new cyber operations teaching centre at Khalifa University will help educate the next generation in infrastructure protection.

But this is not one nation's burden alone. International bodies like the GCC, the UN and the EU must coordinate definitions and responses. Greater transparency and sharing of information is needed to reduce the possibility of an attack on infrastructure. And individual internet users must exercise vigilance and commonsense.

In 1914, the casus belli that started World War I was a political assassination. Unless greater focus is placed on combating cyber sabotage, the next war could come by the click of a mouse.