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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Breakthrough in Paris as 51 states agree to regulate cyber warfare

Agreement at the Paris Peace Forum follows years of stalled negotiations

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, right, delivers a speech flanked by French President Emmanuel Macron and Unesco chief Audrey Azoulay, during the opening of the Internet Governance Forum, part of the first Paris Peace Forum. AFP
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, right, delivers a speech flanked by French President Emmanuel Macron and Unesco chief Audrey Azoulay, during the opening of the Internet Governance Forum, part of the first Paris Peace Forum. AFP

Fifty-one states have pledged support for an agreement that regulates cyber weapons and the use of cyberspace, during talks at the Paris Peace Forum, French officials said on Monday.

The "Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace" marks a breakthrough in drafting a new set of unified standards for emerging forms of cyber warfare, after years of stalled negotiations.

"We need norms to avoid a war in cyberspace which would be catastrophic," French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

China, Russia and the United States did not sign the pledge, which includes commitments not to attack civilian infrastructure such as hospitals.

Monday’s agreement, on the second day of the three-day forum, comes a year after the WannaCry and NotPetya global ransomware attacks — the most serious examples yet of the disruptive impact of state-sponsored cyber warfare.

The WannaCry attack disabled more than 250,000 computers in more than 150 countries and led to the cancellation of more than 19,000 patient appointments in the UK. The NotPetya state-sponsored attack, which came one month later, affected a third of Ukraine’s computers and impaired international shipping and air delivery operations.

Brad Smith, Microsoft's president and chief legal officer, told reporters in Paris on Sunday that nearly one billion people were victims of cyberattacks, mainly WannaCry and NotPetya, last year.

North Korea is believed to be behind the WannaCry attack, while Russia is considered by experts to be behind the NotPetya attack.

Monday’s agreement seeks to establish a mechanism that would help to identify government-backed attacks and establish when a state is justified in retaliating.

Mr Smith backed the drive for an overhaul of the current global legal framework governing cyber warfare and said the implementation of a new system was urgent. "We need to move these norms forward," he said.

Cyber weapons are said to have the potential to spark another global conflict such as the one that engulfed the world 100 years ago. The Paris Peace Forum, launched by French President Emmanuel Macron on the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day marking the end of the First World War, is intended as a repudiation of the divisions that led to “the war to end all wars”.

The text of the Paris call was presented by Mr Macron as he opened the Unesco's Internet Governance Forum in Paris on Monday.

“The cyberspace plays a capital role in all aspects of our life,” Mr Macron said. “We reaffirm our support for an open cyberspace, secure, stable, accessible and pacific, which has become an integral part of our economic, cultural and political life.”

He also stressed that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should also be applied to cyberspace.

“We recognise that the menace constituted by cyber crime forces us to double our efforts and to render our products more secure,” he said.

The newly adopted text, in which signatories pledge "to respect people's rights and protect them online as they do in the physical world”, has also been signed by 93 civil society groups and 218 companies.

Gathering around 20,000 representatives from politics, economics, academia, media and civil society to discuss and promote governance, the Paris forum received close to 900 applications from 116 countries to pitch projects aimed at achieving joint solutions in the fields of technology, peace, security, environment and an inclusive economy.

Technology was accorded a central role at the forum, which will also tackle issues linked to online radicalisation and artificial intelligence.

Officials and experts stressed the need for collaboration on the positive use of emerging technologies rather than perceiving technological innovation as a race to gain the upper hand.

“We need to develop the new tools in an open and collaborative way,” said Antoine Bordes, director of AI Research Science at Facebook. He said his company was seeking collaboration from governments and other stakeholders.

Omar al Olama, Minister of State or Artificial Intelligence in the UAE, said that greater understanding of the true use of AI was needed in order to dismantle the narrative that sees it as a tool of power.

“We need to show why this is not a race or shouldn’t be a race,” he said. “The race is in developing AI, but not in controlling it.”