Microsoft calls on nations to keep civilians out of cyberhacks

A sign marks the Microsoft office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S. January 25, 2017.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo



Microsoft Corp. is urging countries to step up protection for civilians from state-sponsored cyberhacking, through the formation of international agreements similar to the Geneva Conventions and an independent group to investigate and share evidence on the attacks.
The company also is advocating bilateral accords, such as the possibility that “the United States and Russia can hammer out a future agreement to ban the nation-state hacking of all the civilian aspects of our economic and political infrastructures,” Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith wrote Tuesday in a blog post outlining the proposals.
Smith wants nations to back recommendations made in 2015 by experts from 20 countries, which included suggestions such as barring governments from damaging others’ critical infrastructure or using information and communications technology for malicious activity. He likened this sort of agreement to the 1949 Geneva Conventions that established international standards for the treatment of civilians in wartime.
“The time has come for governments to adopt a Digital Geneva Convention to protect civilians on the internet,” wrote Smith, who is speaking Tuesday at the RSA Conference on internet security in San Francisco.
Individual technology companies also need to do more to provide security for customers, he said. Microsoft, which is fighting the US Justice Department over customer data in two separate cases, and other technology companies must remain neutral — a “digital Switzerland” — and retain customer trust worldwide, Smith wrote.
“We will assist and protect customers everywhere,” he wrote. “We will not aid in attacking customers anywhere.” The issue of nation-state hacking has heated up in the aftermath of the US election, with the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia sought to sway the election in favor of President Donald Trump. In his blog, Smith referenced the cyber-attack on Sony Corp. by North Korea in 2014 as bringing the issue to the fore.
“We suddenly find ourselves living in a world where nothing seems off limits to nation-state attacks,” he wrote. “Conflicts between nations are no longer confined to the ground, sea, and air, as cyberspace has become a potential new and global battleground.”

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