On April 21-22, Russia and US officials and experts were holding a series of meetings in Geneva to prevent the two powers from mistakenly entering into a cyberwar.
The event is a result of the cyber-attack that crippled parts of the Ukrainian power grid in December – the first-of-its-kind confirmed attack on civilian infrastructure. A cyber-attack could mistakenly spark a confrontation between the two countries because it is hard to pinpoint its origins. In late March, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested during US State Secretary John Kerry's visit to Moscow that Russia and the United States should hold talks at experts’ level on issues related to cybercrime in the near future.
The Russian delegation is led by Sergei Buravlyov, a Deputy Secretary of Russia's Security Council. His US counterpart is Michael Daniel, a Special Assistant to the President and the Cybersecurity Coordinator.
International aspects of cybersecurity, including the ones related to the UN and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), top the agenda of the forthcoming event.
Russia and the US are tackling a burning issue as the world faces a new global security challenge. Digital interconnectedness has become a ubiquitous feature of modern life, both a cause and an effect of the growing interdependence that defines the international system. Information technology penetrates all aspects of life. Cyberspace has become an operational domain for military operations. The number of high-profile data breaches and other cyberattacks is staggering. Attackers increase the range of targets. Experts are warning that 2016 might bring an attack on critical infrastructure.
The result, they predict, will be new laws to shore up the electrical grid, nuclear power plants, and other large energy facilities.
«We are facing an arms race in terms of security», says Fortinet global security strategist Derek Manky.
Under the conditions, the 2015 Russia-China deal on cyber-security could serve as an example for other states willing to effectively tackle the problem.
Both parties have pledged to cooperate closely and address the threats jointly through enhanced interaction and information exchange between the respective law enforcement agencies on cybercrime and terrorism, sharing expertise in cybersecurity technology and establishing communication channels allowing prompt response to cyber-threats.
In 2013 US also outlined a range of steps to boost cooperation, including information exchange between the US and Russian computer emergency response teams (CERTs), the use of the existing nuclear hotline to communicate directly in a cyber crisis and the creation of a working group on emerging threats.
The initiative was suspended as the bilateral relations deteriorated over Ukraine’s crisis. Anyway, the accord is too modest to be anything but a starting point for a longer-term and more extensive program of cooperation. Tangible improvement of Russia-US cooperation in this domain is indispensable given both powers’ robust cyber capability and influence on world affairs.
Expanding the «envelope of cooperation» demands innovative partnering and forging new means to identify and achieve common goals. It would serve the purpose if this issue became a part of broader Russia-NATO and OSCE agenda.
Cybersecurity, where the two parties are among the leaders in terms of capability, is an area of strategic importance where real progress is possible. Protecting critical infrastructure such as power and water supplies from cyberattacks is a global issue which requires governments to work together, regardless of any political tensions. Although progress will not be easy, Russia and the US interests intersect in several key areas fit for further exploration: technical capacity and standards development, threat intelligence sharing, interoperability enhancement, and consensus building on international law.
Russia and the United States face the same threats from hacking, so they must work together to combat it.
New cooperation between the US and Russia on cyber issues may result in deeply substantive solutions to the most pressing cybersecurity challenges the two countries are facing. The resumption of talks on cybersecurity corroborates the fact that no major global security problem can be tackled without Russia. Setting differences aside to get down to brass tacks is the only way to effectively meet the challenge. Looks like the realization of this fact is taking place. For instance, the cyber security meeting is taking place against the background of resumption of Russia-NATO Council (RNC) meeting (April 20) after a rather long period of suspension since 2014. With two major events taking place at by and large the same time, one can say that the Russia-West security dialogue has resumed and that is a very positive step towards a safer world.