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How Will New Cybersecurity Norms Develop?

In 2013, cybersecurity was named the biggest threat facing the US. But, as UN Secretary-General António Guterres argued last month, minimizing the risks will require a global effort to establish shared rules and norms.

CAMBRIDGE – Last month, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called for global action to minimize the risk posed by electronic warfare to civilians. Guterres lamented that “there is no regulatory scheme for that type of warfare,” noting that “it is not clear how the Geneva Convention or international humanitarian law applies to it.”

A decade ago, cyber security received little attention as an international issue. But, since 2013, it has been described as the biggest threat facing the United States. Although the exact numbers can be debated, the Council on Foreign Relations’ “Cyber Operations Tracker” contains almost 200 state-sponsored attacks by 18 countries since 2005, including 20 in 2016.

The term cybersecurity refers to a wide range of problems that were not a major concern among the small community of researchers and programmers who developed the Internet in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1996, only 36 million people, or about 1% of the world’s population, used the Internet. By the beginning of 2017, 3.7 billion people, or nearly half the world’s population, were online.