U.S., Russia meet amid cyber security tension

Apr 18, 2016, 3:34 PM EDT
(Source: Perspecsys Photos/flickr)
(Source: Perspecsys Photos/flickr)

Representatives from Russia and the U.S. are meeting this week in Geneva to discuss cyber security policies in the latest effort to keep the waters calm between the two countries and, as CNN writes, to "prevent the countries from mistakenly getting into a cyber war.”

The fact that various officials have evoked the possibility of a "mistaken" war shows exactly the level of confusion around cyber security action and global hacking events. Not only is it impossible to detect where damaging cyber hacks originate, as David Kirkpatrick pointed out at the Blouin Creative Leadership Summit last year, it’s also hard to distinguish who the police are — and who they should be.

It is easy to detect from Russia’s digital policies, i.e., censorship of popular sites such as Wikipedia and use of law enforcement to punish people who criticize the government on the internet, that the Kremlin believes government should be the police. The U.S. is, at least outwardly, more conflicted and has been visibly so since the Snowden leaks of 2013. While purportedly supporting a "free and open” internet, the U.S. government was revealed to be far from laissez faire when it comes to monitoring user activity and snooping on other government’s web action. In general, the world is still wondering if private companies should be responsible for their own security, if government should intervene to some extent, and what types of punishments cyber criminals deserve. 

Officials from both countries will review the cyber security agreements signed in 2013, and generally try to ensure relative cyber peace for the foreseeable future — something that has traditionally proven difficult to do as both countries regularly accuse each other of performing state-driven hacks (albeit nowhere near the tensions of U.S.-China relations). That cloudy nature of cyber hacks, and their unknown origins, has both governments grasping at straws.

Part of Kirkpatrick’s cyber security panel addressed the question of "have the bad guys won?” Experts had mixed responses, but all generally agreed that state-only meetings such as the ones occurring this week are not the sole solution to cyber peace. There must be collaboration between private and public entities in order to better understand cyber security as a whole, and to properly deflect attacks, rather than address them in accusatory ways after the fact.

As the digital era builds out, these questions are just a few that will remain on the table, not just for the U.S. and Russia, but for all state entities as cyber attacks grow in volume and destructiveness.