The world needs a treaty to prevent cyber attacks becoming an all-out war, the head of the main UN communications and technology agency warned Saturday.
International Telcommunications Union secretary general Hamadoun Toure gave his warning at a World Economic Forum debate where experts said nations must now consider when a cyber attack becomes a declaration of war.
With attacks on Google from China a major talking point in Davos, Toure said the risk of a cyber conflict between two nations grows every year.
He proposed a treaty in which countries would engage not to make the first cyber strike against another nation.
“A cyber war would be worse than a tsunami — a catastrophe,” the UN official said, highlighting examples such as attacks on Estonia last year.
He proposed an international accord, adding: “The framework would look like a peace treaty before a war.”
Countries should guarantee to protect their citizens and their right to access to information, promise not to harbour cyber terrorists and “should commit themselves not to attack another.”
John Negroponte, former director of US intelligence, said intelligence agencies in the major powers would be the first to “express reservations” about such an accord.
Susan Collins, a US Republican senator who sits on several Senate military and home affairs committees, said the prospect of a cyber attack sparking a war is now being considered in the United States.
“If someone bombed the electric grid in our country and we saw the bombers coming in it would clearly be an act of war.
“If that same country uses sophisticated computers to knock out our electricity grid, I definitely think we are getting closer to saying it is an act of war,” Collins said.
Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer for Microsoft, said “there are at least 10 countries in the world whose internet capability is sophisticated enough to carry out cyber attacks … and they can make it appear to come from anywhere.”