Geopolitics

Why Russia Is Taking On The West Over Cyber Warfare

With the United States embroiled over the National Security Agency's alleged spying on American and foreign citizens, there are other battles taking shape over the Internet.

QWERTY/Cyrillic computer keyboard
QWERTY/Cyrillic computer keyboard
Elena Chernenko

MOSCOW - Just a few months ago, NATO published the first-ever document meant to help establish international norms on cyber warfare. The document has already caught the attention of numerous Russian agencies – and not always in a good way.

The document is called the “Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare,” and the appearance of Estonia’s capital in the document’s name is not coincidental. In 2007 there were massive hacker attacks on Estonian sites, and Estonia pointed the finger at Russia, making Estonia the first victim of a state-sponsored cyber attack. Moscow’s guilt was never officially proven, and Tallinn’s losses weren’t serious enough to warrant military defense. NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defense Center opened in Tallinn a year later.

The 300-page Tallinn Manual describes, for the first time, what actions alliance members should take in the case of a more serious cyber attack. The document argues that there are existing international legal rules that are applicable to cyber warfare. That is in direct conflict with the wishes of Russia and many other countries, which say that new laws are needed.

The document lists 95 existing laws that cover the use of information technology during conflicts. The NATO experts divided cyber attacks into different types and spelled out which rules would apply to each type of attack.

For instance, for attacks carried out during peacetime, the attacked country can respond either by demanding compensation or with “proportional measures.” For example, if Uzbekistan carries out a cyber attack on a dam in Kyrgyzstan so that more water is released into the river, Kyrgyzstan could respond by attacking the Uzbek irrigation system.

The document’s authors stressed that depending on the scale and nature of the attack and the consequences (loss of life, damage or destruction of facilities) a peacetime cyber attack could be equated to “use of force” or an “armed attack,” which can be responded to with military force, including the use of traditional weapons.

The document states that a cyber attack could cause damages similar to attacks with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. It also states clearly that the government who orders an attack is the one responsible, whether or not the attack is carried out from that country’s territory. If, for instance, North Korea hired Iranian hackers to infect computers in Saudi Arabia that would in turn infect U.S. computers, then the U.S. should respond against North Korea.

Legitimization of cyber warfare

The Tallinn Manual says that there have not been any cyber attacks that rise to the level of an act of war, although experts do point to one incident: the Stuxnet virus used to infect Iranian nuclear facilities in 2010. The document does not mention who might have been behind that incident, but most Russian authorities think it was the U.S. and Israel.

Many of the other stipulations are very similar to other international laws on warfare, such as forbidding attacks on civilians or civilian institutions such as hospitals.

In the west the Tallinn Manual received a warm welcome, and many experts have said that it matches Washington’s position on cyber warfare. Of course, non-NATO members were not part of the negotiations, so the document cannot be internationally binding or necessarily representative.

In Russia, officials are much less excited. Russia’s position is that cyber warfare should not simply be controlled – it should be completely forbidden. For Moscow, the Tallinn Manual marks a step toward the legitimization of cyber warfare.

From Moscow’s point of view, while Russia works to prevent the militarization of cyberspace by urging the international community and the UN to adopt a code of conduct, the U.S. and its allies are already working out the rules for prosecuting cyber warfare.

But many Russian experts also see an upside to the Tallinn Manual. Moscow has long tried to talk about cyber security and run up against an unwillingness to talk in Washington, but now that situation is starting to change, according to Aleksander Bedritsky, an expert at the Russian Institute of Strategic Research. Still, he thinks an agreement is unlikely. “It is much more likely that the U.S. and its allies will try to force its understanding of cyber security on others, and if there is no progress during negotiation they will blame Russia,” says Bedritsky.

In spite of the differences on legal matters, there are signs that Russia and the U.S. are getting closer to agreement on practical matters. Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama are planning to sign a number of bilateral agreements about security in cyberspace during their upcoming June meeting.

It’s also extremely unlikely that even if a large number of people in the U.S. were killed due to, for instance, a virus at a dam and the hackers were tracked to Russia, that the U.S. would immediately start seizing Russian computers. That would be allowed under the Tallinn Manual. According to the prepared agreements, they would at least call and ask for an explanation first.

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Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Asham!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where Pyongyang test fires a suspected submarine-launched missile, Colin Powell is remembered, Poland-EU tensions rise, and yay (or yeesh): it's officially Ye. Meanwhile, our latest edition of Work → In Progress takes the pulse of the new professional demands in a recovering economy.

[*Oromo - Ethiopia and Kenya]

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• North Korea fires missile off Japan coast: South Korea military reports that North Korea has fired a ballistic missile into the waters off the coast of Japan. The rocket, thought to have been launched from a submarine, is the latest test in a series of provocations in recent weeks.

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• Colin Powell remembered: Tributes are pouring for former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, after his death yesterday at age 84. Although fully vaccinated, Powell died from complications from COVID-19 as he was battling blood cancer. A trailblazing soldier, he then helped shape U.S. foreign policy, as national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and served as the nation's top diplomat for George W. Bush. Powell's legacy is, by his own admission, "blotted" by his faulty claims of weapons of mass destruction to justify the U.S. war in Iraq.

• Russia to suspend NATO diplomatic mission amid tension: Russia is suspending its diplomatic mission to NATO and closing the alliance's offices in Moscow as relations with the Western military block have plunged to a new low. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the move after NATO expelled eight diplomats from Russia's mission for alleged spying. Relations between NATO and Russia have been strained since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

• Ecuador state of emergency to battle drug crime: President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency amid Ecuador's surge in drug-related violence. He announced the mobilization of police and the military to patrol the streets, provide security, and confront drug trafficking and other crimes.

• Taliban agrees to house-to-house polio vaccine drive: The WHO and Unicef campaign will resume nationwide polio vaccinations after more than three years, as the new Taliban government agreed to support the campaign and to allow women to participate as frontline health workers. Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the last countries in the world with endemic polio, an incurable and infectious disease

• Kanye West officially changes name: Some say yay, some say yeesh, but it's official: The-artist-formerly-known-as-Kanye-West has legally changed his name to Ye, citing "personal reasons."

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

The Washington Post pays tribute to Colin Powell, the first Black U.S. Secretary of State, who died at 84 years old from complications from COVID-19.


💬  LEXICON

Jashn-e Riwaaz

Indian retailer Fabindia's naming its new collection Jashn-e Riwaaz, an Urdu term meaning "celebration of tradition," has been met with severe backlash and calls for boycott from right-wing Hindu groups. They are accusing the brand of false appropriation by promoting a collection of clothes designed for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, but giving it a name in Urdu, a language spoken by many Muslims.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Work → In Progress: Where have all the workers gone?

After the economic slowdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, companies all over the world are taking advantage of loosened lockdowns and progress on the vaccine front to ramp up operations and make up for lost productivity. But the frenetic spurts of the recovery are getting serious pushback. This edition of Work → In Progress looks not only at the coming changes in our post-COVID economy, but also the ways our world is re-evaluating professional obligations.

🗓️ Hail the 4-day week Across the planet, the shorter work week trend is spreading like wildfire. Four is the new five. Spain began experimenting with the concept earlier this year. New Zealand launched a similar trial run in 2020. And in Iceland, efforts to curb working hours date all the way back to 2015, with significant results: 86% of the country's workforce gained the right to reduce work hours with no change in pay.

🚚 Empty seats In the United States, meanwhile, a severe lack of truck drivers has the country's transportation industry looking to hire from abroad. The only problem is … the shortage is happening worldwide, in part because of the e-commerce boom in the wake of worldwide quarantines. The Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano reports that companies will be scrambling to fill the jobs of 17,000 truck drivers in the next two years. The article blames low wages and the dangerous nature of the job, stating that Italian companies are making moves to employ foreign workers.

💼 Key help wanted It's all well and good to question current working conditions. But what about 20 years from now? Will we be working at all? A recent article in the French daily Les Echos posed just that question, and posits that by 2041 — and with the exception of a few select jobs — automation and digitalization will decimate employment. The piece refers to the lucky few as "essential workers," a concept that originated with COVID lockdowns when almost all labor halted and only a minority of workers capable of performing society's most crucial in-person tasks were allowed to carry on.

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📣 VERBATIM

I'm worried for my Afghan sisters.

— Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai Nobel Prize tells the BBC that despite the Taliban's announcement that they would soon lift the ban on girls' education in Afghanistan, she worries it "might last for years."

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