The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is in the process of drafting an international law manual which will address concerns surrounding the prospect of cyber warfare, and how member states can best cooperate to mitigate mounting threats to network security.
In September of this year, the NATO C3 Agency in Brussels held a workshop to address areas in which member nations can look at sharing the cost of cutting-edge research and development of new capabilities in the areas of both cyber defense and offense.
"Various states have managed to agree on laws that govern borders, international sea and air space, even outer space – but now we are faced with the task of adapting or creating laws and precedents for cyberspace..." writes Colonel Ilmar Tamm, director of the NATO cooperative cyber defence centre of excellence.
Member nations are looking to combine efforts to increase information sharing and cyber situational awareness to combat the potential threats posed by state-sponsored cyber attacks, and the drafting of the international law manual looks to further this effort.
"The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation cooperative cyber defence centre of excellence – or NATO CCD COE - is sponsoring and actively participating in the writing of the manual on international law applicable to cyber-warfare – or MILCW. This is expected to be published by the end of 2012," Tamm said.
"The manual is meant to address all the legal issues under a framework of both international use-of-force law and international humanitarian law. In addition, it examines related problems such as sovereignty, state responsibility and neutrality. We are confident that this manual will help the international community answer many unanswered questions, especially those regarding retaliation."
One of the biggest obstacles to standardization of military response to cyber-based attacks is in reliably determining attribution. In many cases, it is nearly impossible to clearly determine the origin of an attack, and even more difficult to ascertain if the event was state-sponsored or instigated by individual actors.
"It's like the American wild west, where anyone with a horse and a gun could be an outlaw. The horses have been replaced with computers, and gun skills with knowledge of the web... Retaliation is impossible if one does not know the attacker and identifying actors in cyberspace is extremely difficult. An attacker can be in Europe, but route his attack through servers in Australia, Asia and America, making it nearly impossible to trace the originator. In fact, it becomes very easy to misattribute attacks by attaching responsibility for an attack on a possibly hijacked computer and its owner. Attribution, in short, is an enormous difficulty," Tamm explained.
Also of interest to NATO is the prospect of recruiting independent hackers to the cause of securing critical government and military networks, and idea that has proved to be successful in some arenas.
"Raoul Chiesa, at our annual conference in June 2011, provided another innovative suggestion: maybe governments and the private sector should try to lure hackers to our side? It seems unwise not to try to win their expertise and experience. The Estonian Cyber Defence League provides a useful model in which cyber-experts volunteer in their free time to work on cyber-defence issues, and are willing to contribute to the defence effort when governmental institutions are attacked" said Tamm.
Raoul Chiesa is a Senior Advisor on Strategic Alliances & Cybercrime Issues at the Global Crimes Unit for the United Nations Interregional Crime & Justice Research Institute, a Member of the Permanent Stakeholders Group at the European Network & Information Security Agency (ENISA).
Infosec Island's Anthony M. Freed interviewed Chiesa last year, and the full text of the interview can be found here.