Internet ‘bucking bronco’ needs a saddle: Former top US diplomat Madeleine Albright

Internet ‘bucking bronco’ needs a saddle: Former top US diplomat Madeleine Albright

US' first female Secretary of State recommends countries sit down at the table to thrash out acceptable international rules, including what constitutes malign use of the Internet, for an increasingly unruly online space.

Madeleine Albright at FireEye event
Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright addressing the crowd at FireEye's Cyber Defense Summit 2018. (Photo: FireEye)

WASHINGTON D.C., United States: The Internet was called a “bucking bronco” by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and she recommended putting a saddle on it like how countries did for nuclear energy after scientists discovered how to split an atom.

Speaking at a cybersecurity conference organised by FireEye on Wednesday (Oct 3), Albright said one of the mega trends in the world today is information technology and how it is being used. While there are undoubtedly benefits reaped from the advent of the World Wide Web, there are also bad actors who conduct cyberattacks or stop short of a “cyber Pearl Harbour” when they spread misinformation on social media platforms, she pointed out.

These platforms tend to also act as echo chambers for those looking to spread lies online, she added.

READ: Is the use of digital tools and social media causing our brains to waste away?

“If a lie is repeated 10 times, it can be corrected. If a lie is repeated thousands of times, it could become accepted as truth,” Albright warned.

As such, she harkened back to lessons learnt from the discovery of the splitting of the atom as a point of reference as to how to govern today’s technology development and the Internet. These include having an agency like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to monitor malicious activities and identify who are the bad actors behind these.

This, though, will require countries to thrash out rules that are agreeable to all, she said.

Reiterating this point was FireEye CEO Kevin Mandia, who opened the two-day conference by noting that the rules of engagement in today’s cyberspace are “deteriorating” as no one is really sure what is permissible behaviour or not anymore.

“We have a global community that is wholly unsure (right now),” Mr Mandia pointed out. “That’s bizarre.”

The cybersecurity vendor had on Wednesday released a new report on a North Korea-backed hacker group it called APT38 that focuses on stealing money from financial institutions for the sanctions-hit state. In it, the report said that North Korean operators “appear to be undeterred by public outings in the past” and the group’s activities “provide some indication that even diplomatic re-engagement will not motivate North Korea to rein in its illicit, financially motivated activities”.

READ: Identity of North Korea-backed hacker group stealing millions from global banks unveiled

This state of affairs is why Mr Mandia said diplomacy is needed more than ever today. Countries needs to come to the table to talk about what activities are permissible and what are not, he said.

As it is, amid the many cyberattacks that happened in 2017 such as the WannaCry ransomware attack, the UN Group of Governmental Experts (UN GGE) failed to arrive at a consensus to advance norms for responsible state behaviour on the World Wide Web. The UN GGE is a working group comprising 25 countries, including the US, Russia and China, to study emerging threats in information security.

READ: US blames North Korea for WannaCry cyberattack

This prompted the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in February this year to again call for such discussions on cyber norms to take place, and fast.

“When one looks at today’s cyber space, it is clear that we are witnessing, in a more or less disguised way, cyber wars between states,” Mr Guterres said in his speech at the Munich Security Conference then.

“The fact is we have not yet been able to discuss whether or not the Geneva Conventions apply to cyber war or whether or not international humanitarian law applies to cyber war.

“I think it’s high time to have a serious discussion about the international legal framework in which cyber wars take place,” the UN chief said.

Source: CNA/kk(mn)