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View from Iran: World needs rules on cyberattacks (+video)

The US believes that cyberattacks from another country can constitute an 'act of war.' This begs the question of whether the US can unilaterally engage in an unprovoked act against Iran that, according to its own standards, is unacceptable. The world needs global rules on cyberattacks, regardless of where we live and how we think, say Iran's UN diplomats.

By Alireza Miryousefi and Hossein Gharibi / February 14, 2013

President Obama gives his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill Feb. 12. He announced he signed an executive order to strengthen America's cybersecurity. Op-ed writers Alireza Miryousefi and Hossein Gharibi point to the 2010 'Stuxnet' attack on Iran and say: 'There is no choice but to cease cyberattacks and to responsibly contribute to establishing international rules concerning these attacks.'

Charles Dharapak/AP

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The world needs a new international legal instrument on cyberspace, in light of the new waves of trans-border cyberattacks that have become a disturbing aspect of international relations in the 21st century. It is a concern for all, regardless of where we live and how we think.

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COMMENTARY: Harvard Kennedy School professor and former diplomat Nicholas Burns discusses US foreign policy in the Middle East as part of the American Conversation Essentials series.

Cyberattacks are a new phenomenon in the history of modern warfare. They threaten global peace and security and require new norms under international law and principles of the UN Charter. Cyberweapons “can deliver, in the blink of an eye, wild viral behaviors that are easily reproduced and transferred, while lacking target discrimination,” reports the EastWest Institute in New York, which proposes international “rules of engagement” to cope with cyberweapons.

Incredibly, today there are international prohibitions against a soldier throwing a grenade across a border, and yet, prohibitions are comparatively too weak against cybersoldiers targeting other countries’ military, economic, and financial institutions and causing substantial damage. Clearly, there is something amiss and it requires collective international effort to tackle the so-called “digital battlefield.”

Iran, as the current chair of the Non-Aligned Movement and acting as a responsible member of the international community, is firmly committed to the goal of strengthening the international legal instruments dealing with cybersecurity. Such an instrument could conceivably be modeled after other international conventions regulating relations among states, obligating state signatories to not use cyberattacks against others.

For several years now, Iran has been the recipient of a protracted wave of state-sponsored cyberattacks. These attacks have attempted to disrupt our computer systems at power grids, government ministries, nuclear facilities, oil terminals, and other important industrial and economic sectors. They have inflicted financial and property damage and caused occasional disruptions.

Obviously, these attacks are illegal from the point of view of recognized principles of international law, including the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. Articles one and two of the Charter provide a framework under which UN member states should interact with each other. Article 2 (4) states: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

And yet, unfortunately the US in particular has behaved as if there are no standards in the international community regarding such wrongful acts. It has supported “offensive operations” in cyberspace without bothering with their compatibility with international norms. This callous indifference to general rules of international law was seen in the 2010 “Stuxnet” attack against the control system of Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities, which was reportedly authorized by the White House as part of its “covert operations” against Iran.

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