How effective will a cybersecurity peace treaty be

Posted on Nov 16, 2015

In theory, a cybersecurity treaty sounds like a major benefit for businesses in all of the signatory countries. While such a pact won't prevent attacks from criminal elements or non-participants, it would significantly reduce the amount of corporate and government espionage currently encountered. There's a distinct possibility the U.S. and China could reach such an accord. While it's not a guarantee the two superpowers will reach a mutually agreeable conclusion, the fact that such discussions are taking place is impressive to say the least. According to political news site The Hill, the first high-level talks about the potential agreement will occur in Washington, D.C., in early December.

The potential benefits
A mutual cyber defense agreement has some obvious advantages in terms of both direct action and influence on future policy and actions. It's easy to see how a ban on such attacks - which otherwise sit in murky territory in terms of international law and jurisdiction - would benefit companies and government organizations in both countries. An enhanced security baseline would reduce the number of breaches and attempts overall and allow a refocusing of resources and priorities. The biggest long-term change may not stem from these positives, however.

Should the treaty prove successful, both in terms of the respective governments reaching an accord and ongoing enforcement, it could create something of a domino effect. While by no means a guarantee, the China-U.S. pact may set the stage for other, similar agreements between counties and multinational bodies. The EU, for example, could potentially negotiate internally and externally to make similar pacts, and other world powers such as India and Russia could potentially follow suit. This outcome could take decades to reach a final level of completeness, but it would be a huge boon to a wide variety of businesses and organizations.

"All organizations must take the initiative with cybersecurity and dedicate the appropriate amount of time and resources to build a defense instead of relying on treaties and laws to do the work for them."

The potential pitfalls
While the idea of a China-U.S. cybersecurity treaty offers some potent gains for both sides, there are some pressing practical issues involved. There's no guarantee a pact will actually be reached as no imperative to do so exists. Negotiations may break down or the agreement, if made, may simply prove unenforceable. Reuters pointed out that the infrastructure related to international cybersecurity is especially complex and could defy attempts to completely and thoroughly regulate it - even if both countries put the best possible efforts into enforcement. The Internet's status as a non-physical information system not completely owned or operated by a single entity with the power to thoroughly regulate hackers could prove to be a major obstacle.

As Reuters said, the current climate in worldwide cybersecurity is every country for itself. That same principle applies on the individual level to businesses and government entities, too. All organizations must take the initiative with cybersecurity and dedicate the appropriate amount of time and resources to build a defense instead of relying on treaties and laws to do the work for them.

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