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Science and Technology

December 15, 2012

U.N. couldn't control the Internet even if it wanted to

(Continued)

There are better things for the United Nations to focus on if it wishes to play a productive role in the information age. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, whose video address at the opening of the Dubai conference spoke of a desire to foster openness and Internet freedom, should act on his own words and reject the role of regulator. Instead, he should lead his organization as a negotiator, fostering behavior-based forms of cyber arms control -- as there is still time to head off an age of "mass disruptive" cyberwars.

Almost all IT is dual-use. Any laptop can be used to wage cyberwar. But it is possible to craft agreements not to use such weaponry first, not to use it against civilian infrastructure or in acts of "cybotage," as in the case of the Stuxnet worm attack on Iran. Many of the nations that have signed the chemical and biological weapons conventions can still make these terrible weapons, but promise not to do so, or to use them. If the United Nations wants a role, it should seek a similar behavioral approach to arms control in cyberspace. Russia first proposed something like this at the United Nations back in the '90s. The United States opposed it. Now the Russians are among the best cyberwarriors in the world, and American cybersecurity is in a parlous state.

What is to be done? Let me make a modest suggestion to Toure: Stream the remainder of the Dubai conference to the world in a live webcast. Allow a global discourse to commence, one in which nations and networks together will find the right way ahead. If you are for openness, then be open.

John Arquilla is professor of defense analysis at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School and author of "Worst Enemy: The Reluctant Transformation of the American Military."

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