Microsoft wants a 'Digital Geneva Convention' to rein in state-sponsored cyber threats

As the public conversation continues to heat up around the threat of state-sponsored hacking, Microsoft is calling for what it calls a "Digital Geneva Convention." In a post on Microsoft's On The Issues blog (via Reuters), Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith presses the need for an international agreement on rules to protect civilians from nation-state cyber attacks.

Says Smith:

Just as the Fourth Geneva Convention has long protected civilians in times of war, we now need a Digital Geneva Convention that will commit governments to protecting civilians from nation-state attacks in times of peace. And just as the Fourth Geneva Convention recognized that the protection of civilians required the active involvement of the Red Cross, protection against nation-state cyberattacks requires the active assistance of technology companies.

On that last point, Smith's plan advocates for a "Digital Switzerland" — a neutral third party trusted to assist customers everywhere. Such an organization would be trusted with carrying out independent investigations and sharing evidence of specific nation-state attacks with the public.

As part of his plan, Smith envisions the Unites States and Russia in particular working together in a similar manner to talks that led to a deal between the U.S. and China over intellectual property cyber-theft in 2015:

All of this points the way to potential new steps ahead. First, there is a new opportunity for vital bilateral action. Just as the United States and China overcame mutual challenges and made important progress in 2015 to ban intellectual property cyber-theft, the United States and Russia can hammer out a future agreement to ban the nation-state hacking of all the civilian aspects of our economic and political infrastructures.

Ultimately, Smith advocates for for governments around the world to pursue a multilateral agreement on global cybersecurity norms that hold nations around the world accountable.

Dan Thorp-Lancaster

Dan Thorp-Lancaster is the former Editor-in-Chief of Windows Central. He began working with Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore as a news writer in 2014 and is obsessed with tech of all sorts. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DthorpL and Instagram @heyitsdtl