Cyber Cold War: US And Russia Set Up Emergency Hotline

In a move eerily reminiscent of the Cold War, the US and Russia have set up a hotline to avoid an accidental or catastrophic cyber war, after two years of discussing how best to collaborate on online threats.

The two companies want to “reduce the possibility that a misunderstood cyber incident could create instability or a crisis in our bilateral relationship”, according to a fact sheet from the White House.

Both Russia and the US are hotbeds of cyber criminal activity, and both are thought to be throwing much funding into military efforts in cyber too.

Cold War kids

Many have described the cyber-political landscape as similar to the cold war, with widespread espionage, and rapid improvement and proliferation of weapons.

A year after a major nuclear war nearly started following the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, as the Cold War threatened to go hot, the then US President John F Kennedy set up a direct phone line to the Kremlin in Moscow.

Rather than wait for a disaster to happen, President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin have set up their own cyber hotline immediately.

“We recognise that threats to or in the use of ICTs include political-military and criminal threats, as well as threats of a terrorist nature, and are some of the most serious national and international security challenges we face in the 21st Century,” a joint statement from the presidents read.

“We affirm the importance of cooperation between the United States of America and the Russian Federation for the purpose of enhancing bilateral understanding in this area. We view this cooperation as essential to safeguarding the security of our countries, and to achieving security and reliability in the use of ICTs that are essential to innovation and global interoperability.”

They agreed to establish a “direct communication link between high-level officials to manage potentially dangerous situations arising from events that may carry security threats to or in the use of ICTs”. The line will run between the US Cybersecurity Coordinator and the Russian Deputy Secretary of the Security Council and will form part of the direct secure communication system that already runs from Washington DC to Moscow.

A direct communications link between the nations’ Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers was also set up to “reduce the risk of misperception, escalation and conflict”. The nations want to bolster their systems from threats that could have a destructive impact, such as Stuxnet, which hit Iran’s nuclear production facilities and was believed to be the work of the US and Israel.

A communication channel and information sharing arrangements will link the nations’ computer emergency response teams (CERTs) too, whilst a working group will look at the latest Internet-based threats and decide on ways to combat them.

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Thomas Brewster

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

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