The United States was notably absent from the list of more than 50 countries who signed an international agreement on cybersecurity principles revealed in Paris on Monday.
But American technology titans such as Microsoft, Google and Facebook signed the pact, a clear sign that companies are seeking to expand their role in shaping global cybersecurity policy.
The Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace unveiled by French President Emmanuel Macron outlines a commitment to end “malicious cyber activities in peacetime.” But the non-binding agreement did not include buy-in from the most active cyber actors, including Australia, Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and Israel.
Yet this move to develop norms for the way countries should act in cyberspace was different from previous efforts because of the broad support from the private sector. More than 200 companies and business associations signed the agreement, which says major private-sector actors also have a responsibility to improve cybersecurity.
The agreement highlights how governments are now understanding -- and embracing -- the significant role companies can play in combating threats in cyberspace. And by signing agreements with governments worldwide, it's clear that American companies are becoming a global political force of their own.
Peter Singer, a strategist and senior fellow at the think tank New America, said companies are increasingly banding together to address policy issues, especially because efforts in developing an international framework at the government level have floundered. “These agreements were in part a reaction to lack of government activity,” Singer said.
Klara Jordan, the director of the Cyber Statecraft Initiative at the Atlantic Council think tank, said this is the first agreement of its kind to include principles that address steps the government and private sector should take on cybersecurity. The Atlantic Council was one of almost 100 nongovernmental organizations that also signed the agreement. To address cybersecurity issues, “you need this multistakeholder kind of commitment,” she said.
Companies are recognizing they have responsibilities beyond their business goals to protect people online, Jordan said. “Industry is taking a lead on it.”
As one example, Microsoft has long been taking collective action with other companies to improve cybersecurity. Earlier this year, the company announced the Cybersecurity Tech Accord, a commitment of more than 60 technology and cybersecurity companies to improve the security of cyberspace. Last year, Microsoft President Brad Smith called for a “digital Geneva Convention” to unite companies and governments in tackling cybersecurity issues.
Microsoft is escalating these efforts by signing the pact with other governments. “While the tech sector has the first and highest responsibility to protect this technology and the people who rely upon it, this is an issue that requires that governments, companies and civil society come together,” Smith said in a blog post. “That is the only effective way to protect people from what at times have become military-grade cybersecurity threats.”
Other technology leaders — such as Amazon and Apple — were not among the signatories. The companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
The Paris Call says that the rights people have offline must be upheld online, and that international human rights laws apply in cyberspace. All members of the European Union, as well as Japan, South Korea and other nations, signed on. “We condemn malicious cyber activities in peacetime, notably the ones threatening or resulting in significant, indiscriminate or systemic harm to individuals and critical infrastructure and welcome calls for their improved protection,” the pact says.
But ultimately, the effort to set international norms on cybersecurity issues may fall short without buy-in from the major actors in cyberspace. Many of the states absent on the list have been more “aggressive” and have pushed forward on offensive cyber operations, Singer said, adding that the absence of the United States creates bad optics. “It’s not a good look for us to be on the outs and be aligned with China, Russia and North Korea on cyberspace issues."
Jordan also said the lack of U.S. participation was disappointing. “It is in my view a break with what happened in the past administrations, where norms were so important,” she said.
This could make way for other players on the global stage. France and the United Kingdom, Jordan said, are now emerging as leaders in the push to develop international cybersecurity norms. But the absence of the United States also reflects the Trump administration’s aversion to signing on to global pacts, instead favoring a transactional approach to issues, Singer said. He compared the U.S. absence on the cybersecurity pact to the Trump administration's withdrawal from the Paris agreement on climate change.
This approach was one reason the U.N.'s Group of Governmental Experts did not reach a consensus on international cyber laws, Singer said. Singer said the group fell apart in 2017, as the administration took a different approach to global norms and after Russia made an “in-your-face violation” with its hacking attempts on the U.S. presidential election and on Ukraine, highlighted by a 2015 attack on the country's electric grid.
However, CyberScoop reported last month that the State Department was seeking to restart talks in the United Nations on global cyber norms.
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— More cybersecurity news from the public sector:
— “Facebook failed to closely monitor device makers after granting them access to the personal data of hundreds of millions of people, according to a previously unreported disclosure to Congress last month,” the New York Times's Nicholas Confessore, Michael LaForgia and Gabriel J.X. Dance reported. “Facebook’s loose oversight of the partnerships was detected by the company’s government-approved privacy monitor in 2013. But it was never revealed to Facebook users, most of whom had not explicitly given the company permission to share their information. Details of those oversight practices were revealed in a letter Facebook sent last month to Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat, a privacy advocate and frequent critic of the social media giant.”
— “Cyber security, energy price shocks and failure of national governance are among the biggest threats to business in 2018, according to research published Monday,” CNBC's Chloe Taylor reported. “The World Economic Forum (WEF) spoke to more than 12,000 executives around the world about what they considered to be the biggest risks to doing business, ranging across political, societal and technological concerns.” The report said that cyberattacks are considered to be the top risk for business in three regions — North America, East Asia and the Pacific, and Europe — out of eight.
— More cybersecurity news from the private sector:
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— More cybersecurity news from abroad:
- Pen Test HackFest Summit in Bethesda, Md.
- Infosecurity North America conference tomorrow through Thursday in New York.
- House Armed Services subcommittee hearing on “interagency cyber cooperation” tomorrow.
- Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing on the “Department of Defense’s cybersecurity acquisition and practices from the private sector” tomorrow.
- The Center for American Progress organizes an event on election security in Washington on Thursday.
- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosts a conference, titled “Critical Infrastructure Risk Management: A Path Forward,” in Washington on Friday.
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