The United Nations is working to eliminate dangerous activity in cyberspace and cyber attacks by making the laws involving internet usage by state actors clearer. The Group of Governmental Experts on Information Security (GGE) has created a document which specifies its guidelines to state activity in cyberspace. The document showcases a series of norms that have been supported by the United States.
According to the document, states should respond to requests for assistance, while refraining from cyber activity that intentionally hurts or impairs critical infrastructure. While the idea of stopping the assault of critical infrastructure is a good idea, it is difficult to see what additional clarification this guideline offers. It is often unclear as to what exactly constitutes critical infrastructure.
For example, was the North Korean incident with Sony an attack against critical infrastructure? Additionally, there already existed a norm against disruptive or destructive activities in cyberspace before the report.
However, the GGE report does function in several useful manners.
The report mentions the possible applicability to cyberspace of the international legal principles regarding humanity, necessity, proportionality, and distinction. However, it is unclear whether or not these principles apply to state activity in cyberspace. The report also says that states should take measures to prove any cyber attack that takes place and that sufficient evidence should be shown in order to attribute any cyber activity to a specific state.
The report goes on to suggest that states should respond to requests for assistance from other states whose critical infrastructure is subject to malicious acts and attacks. This is important because requests for assistance sometimes go unanswered for days. This causes dangerous traffic to flourish when it could be easily terminated.
While these developments probably aren’t a major breakthrough, there are some positive steps that are being taken. There is still a long way to go in determining what exactly states can or cannot do on the internet. However, reports such as this one make things a little bit less murky as cyberspace is increasingly weaponized by a variety of states around the world.