Setting the rules of engagement in cybersecurity war

Behind the public diplomacy is an ongoing cybersecurity war between global superpowers China, Russia and the United States. Caught in the crossfire, Australian agencies need to be prepared.

Scepticism abounds about the efficacy of the United States-China Cyber Accord announced late September following a summit meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama. The accord, which amounts to little more than a pledge to curb state-sponsored cyber espionage towards each other, has no formal text and was not signed by the two leaders.

The accord does bring cyber espionage and digital security issues onto centre-stage, and not just for the world’s two largest economies. State-sanctioned commercial spying and hacking represent the new digital weaponry of the post-industrial era.

The reality is most countries’ governments and businesses — including Australia — are both victims and perpetrators of increasingly sophisticated, covert cyber activities. The nature of those activities range from espionage and surveillance (in which Western and non-Western governments engage) to wide-scale, state-sponsored and systematic theft of intellectual property — trade secrets, blueprints and personnel files.

While defining acceptable rules of engagement in the covert cyber realm is fraught with difficulty, it is becoming increasingly necessary.

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