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December 4, 2014

Microsoft calls for international hacking laws

Software vendor says standards are needed for cyber-attacks between nations.

By Jimmy Nicholls

Microsoft is pushing for international laws restricting how countries behave towards one another online, in a bid to reduce hacking between nations.

In a new white paper the software vendor outlines guidelines of what should be prohibited, arguing that hacking is undermining trust in computing and could lead to damaging unintended political consequences.

Paul Nicholas, senior director of Trustworthy Computing at Microsoft, said: "We realise that moving from politically binding norms to legally binding norms will take time and commitment, and that some policymakers might see our proposals as more aspirational than realistic."

"However, historically, international norms have only developed after an event with horrific consequences has already occurred and the international community realized that a particular activity – whether it be the use of chemical weapons, carpet bombing, or landmines – can no longer be acceptable."

The firm argued that spies should refrain from targeting IT companies to insert backdoor bugs into their products for later exploitation, and should also report bugs to vendors when it finds them, instead of keeping them under wraps for later use.

It also said that cyber-weapons development should be limited, adding that states should commit to non-proliferation of such software, which can be used to hit infrastructure and limit the amount of hacking against other states.

"As the pace of activity in cyberspace increases, so does the likelihood of one state misinterpreting the actions of another," said Wolfgang Ischinger, former German ambassador to the UK. "Moreover, the risk of a cyber-arms race cannot be discounted."

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Microsoft added that governments should help the private sector in responding to cybercrime and cyber-espionage, arguing that corporations are still "the first line of defence" against hackers.

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