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Treaties, Multi-National Agreements Needed to Ban Cyber Weapons: RSA Chief

"We Must Have the Same Abhorrence to Cyber War as We do to Nuclear and Chemical Warfare" - Art Coviello, RSA Chairman

SAN FRANCISCO – RSA CONFERENCE 2014 - This year's opening keynote at the RSA Conference railed against using the Internet to wage war and urged all nations to renounce the use of cyber-weapons.

The opening keynote by Art Coviello, chairman of EMC’s RSA Security Division, usually follows a specific formula: a glittering musical number followed by a stirring speech laying out the challenges facing enterprise security and what the industry should do next. This year, the musical number was there, as William Shatner sang Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds with a security twist. Instead of just focusing on enterprise security in the speech itself, Coviello called on the security industry and governments to adopt four key principles to protect online privacy and trust. The ideas centered on destroying cyber-weapons, hunting cyber-criminals, securing online activity to protect intellectual property, and ensuring privacy for individuals.

Art Coviello Keynote: RSA 2014"Many will be skeptical or cynical that these principles will be adopted...We have accords outlawing nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare and war in space, so why not cyberspace?"

Coviello reached deep into history, quoting presidents James Madison and John F. Kennedy on the importance of preserving civil liberties. He likened the emerging digital arms race by countries around the world to the Cuban missile crisis, and noted the cyber-criminals were the one who benefited the most from leaving vulnerabilities the cyber-weapons were exploiting unfixed.

Governments need to renounce the use of offensive cyber-weapons, Coviello said. Cyber-weapons need to banned through treaties and multi-national agreements, in much the same way as nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons.

"The genie is out of the bottle on cyberweapons, they are easily propagated and can be turned on their developers...We must have the same abhorrence to cyber war as we do to nuclear and chemical warfare," Coviello said.

Countries must work together to investigate, arrest, and prosecute cyber-criminals. The mishmash of local laws and confusing jurisdictions means there are some parts of the world that are considered safe havens for criminals. Countries also need to establish rules respecting intellectual property rights and keep online activity secure. "The rule of law must rule," Coviello insisted.

And finally, Coviello said individual privacy needed to be respected and protected. Personal information is increasingly valuable in the digital world, and there needs to be changes made in the laws to ensure privacy continues to be protected in the future. Governments need to stop using tactics that trample on civil liberties, he said.

“All intelligence agencies around the world need to adopt a governance model that enables them to do more to defend us, and less to offend us,” said Coviello.

The full transcript of Coviello’s keynote is available here , and an on demand video of the address is embedded below.

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Fahmida Y. Rashid is a Senior Contributing Writer for SecurityWeek. She has experience writing and reviewing security, core Internet infrastructure, open source, networking, and storage. Before setting out her journalism shingle, she spent nine years as a help-desk technician, software and Web application developer, network administrator, and technology consultant.