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RSA 2017: Microsoft President Calls On World Governments To Join Forces In Cyber Battle

Sam Pudwell joined Silicon UK as a reporter in December 2016. As well as being the resident Cloud aficionado, he covers areas such as cyber security, government IT and sports technology, with the aim of going to as many events as possible.

As nation state cyber attacks have grown in prominence, is collaboration the solution?

Microsoft president Brad Smith has issued a rallying cry to global governments, calling on them to come together to defend against today’s cyber security threats.

Speaking at the opening keynote of RSA Conference 2017 in San Francisco, Smith passionately emphasised the importance of putting on a united front, both from a government and industry perspective, in defending against an ever-more dangerous threat landscape.

“We live in a world of constant and at times turbulent change,” he said. “When we think about cyber security, we are clearly dealing with a growing problem. A problem that is in need of new solutions.”

Nation state

Specifically, he referred to the growing prominence of nation state attacks, citing the 2014 Sony hack as a “turning point” for the security industry: “Here was a nation state attack not for espionage, not related to the military, but to attack a private company for engaging in freedom of expression around, as it turned out, not a terribly popular movie.

“It got our attention and in the two and a half years since, we’ve seen these issues evolve even further,” said Smith, examples of which can bee seen most recently in the American Presidential elections where US officials blamed Russia for releasing emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

Geo-political controversies have become front page news over the last few years, driven by this new generation of nation state attacks that are causing governments around the world massive headaches due to the invisible and often anonymous nature of the cyber battlefield.

cyber attack

But perhaps the most concerning thing for governments is that these attacks can happen at any time and with little warning.

“For over two thirds of a century the world’s governments have been committed to protecting civilians in times of war. But when it comes to cyber attacks, nation state hacking has evolved into attacks on civilians in times of peace. This is not the world that the Internet’s inventors envisioned a quarter of a century ago but it is the world that we inhabit today,” noted Smith. 

So, to address the issue Smith implored governments to do more. To come together and tackle this new breed of cyber threat as a collective in order to “protect civilians on the internet in times of peace”.

He continued: “Lets face the obvious. There are new issues that we need governments to come together and address in 2017. What we need now is a digital Geneva convention. We need a convention that will call on the world’s governments to pledge that they will not engage in cyber attacks on the private sector, that they will not target civilian infrastructure.

“We need governments to pledge that instead they will work with the private sector to respond to vulnerabilities and that they will take additional measures. And as much as anything else, we need governments to take a page out of the 1949 Geneva convention.

“What the world needs is a new independent organisation. We need an agency that brings together the best and the brightest in academia and the public sector, we need an agency that has international credibility not only to observe what’s happening, but to identify the attacks when nation state attacks happen.”

He specifically called on US President Donald Trump to “sit across the table with the president from Russia and take another step forward to address the attacks that concern the world”, in an extremely powerful message that the huge RSA crowd responded to with gusto.

The big question is will global governments take heed of Smith’s warnings, or are politically motivated attacks here to stay? 

Quiz: The world of cyber security in 2016