There has been an increasing amount of talk from high places, including the White House, about the urgent need for international cooperation on cybersecurity. But a proposal to be released tomorrow calling for specific US-China steps shows, more than anything, how far we have to go.
The 79-page document isn’t coming out from the Obama administration but is the product of a year-long joint effort by the prestigious nonprofit EastWest Institute and the Internet Society of China.
With the involvement of many prominent former government officials and industry leaders, the EastWest Institute has played a back-channel role in resolving some major international conflicts before, and it has made cyber issues a priority. It brought Chinese and Russian authorities to a kickoff conference in Dallas a year ago and is convening a new summit in London next week.
The ultimate goal would be treaties that forbid or limit cyberwar. But with the major countries unable to agree about much of anything at this early stage, the institute decided to get the ball rolling by finding out at least what each of the parties would most like to talk about.
From China, seen by US intelligence officials as the most pernicious foe in matters cyber, came the resounding answer: spam. This may have something to do with the fact that US-based computers churn out far more spam than those in China, and is indeed one of the world’s worst offenders.
The institute gamely plunged ahead, producing with its counterpart in China a reasonable, uncontroversial series of recommendations for things like greater transpacific sharing of information and best practices by professionals, with legislation taking a back seat.
Because it is mostly calling for more discussion, the report isn’t likely to cull much in the short term from the more than 90 per cent of email that is unwanted.
But given what it took to achieve even what it did, the document is a healthy reminder of how much more work lies ahead, coming from people who are actually negotiating.
In any case, you have to start somewhere.