Lisbon – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday called for global rules to minimise the impact of electronic warfare on civilians as massive cyber attacks look likely to become the first salvoes in future wars.
Computer hackers, many of them believed to be state-sponsored groups, had in 2017 disrupted multinational firms, ports and public services on an unprecedented scale around the world, raising awareness of the issue.
The U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller had on Friday indicted 13 Russians and three Russian companies on charges of conducting a criminal and espionage conspiracy using social media to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election.
He said the defendants allegedly conducted “information warfare” against the U.S. election process to help Donald Trump win.
He said the defendants used fake American personas, social media platforms, and other Internet media to advance their scheme, according to an indictment.
“Episodes of cyber warfare between states already exist.
“What is worse is that there is no regulatory scheme for that type of warfare; it is not clear how the Geneva Convention or international humanitarian law applies to it.
“I am absolutely convinced that, differently from the great battles of the past, which opened with a barrage of artillery or aerial bombardment, the next war will begin with a massive cyber attack.
“This is to destroy military capacity and paralyse basic infrastructure such as the electric networks,” Guterres said in a speech to his alma mater, the University of Lisbon.
He offered the UN as a platform where various players from scientists to governments could meet and work out such rules “to guarantee a more humane character” of any conflict involving information technology and, more broadly, to keep the internet as “an instrument in the service of good”.
While addressing professors and engineers after receiving the university’s honorary degree, Guterres urged them to contribute to the process, which had to run much faster than before.
Traditional ways of working out such rules could take decades too slow for the rapidly changing technology scene.
A group of NATO allies had in 2017 said they were drawing up cyber warfare principles to guide their militaries on what justifies deploying cyber attack weapons more broadly, aiming for agreement by early 2019.
Some NATO allies believe shutting down an enemy power plant through a cyber attack could be more effective than air strikes. (Reuters/NAN)