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Make cyberwar a no-no equal to nukes, bio, and chemical attacks, says RSA headman

And while you're at it, Art Coviello suggests, break up the NSA

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RSA 2014 RSA's chairman Art Coviello has come out fighting over claims that his firm is colluding with the NSA to weaken standards, calling for the breakup of the intelligence agency and a new global set of standards to make online warfare as unacceptable as the use of nuclear or chemical weapons.

Coviello said that RSA, along with almost every other computer security firm, worked with the NSA in defending the US. But he defended the company's support for the pre-weakened Dual Elliptic Curve Deterministic Random Bit Generator (Dual EC DRBG) standard endorsed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, saying that RSA worked with standards bodies and had changed its software once the flaw had been found in the encryption technique.

However, Coviello said that the NSA had overstepped the mark and that the agency needs to be broken up to ensure that its role is solely defensive in nature and to keep its operations under rein. But he also called on governments and the security industry to adopt four key principles to avoid the destruction of trust and privacy online.

First, he said, governments around the world need to renounce the use of offensive cyberweapons, and through treaties and mutual agreements make them as forbidden 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," he said. "Those who seek military advantage by riding this tiger will end up inside it. We must have the same abhorrence to cyber war as we do to nuclear and chemical warfare."

Second, countries must work together to investigate, arrest, and prosecute cyber criminals. The current mish-mash of different laws means there are effective safe havens for online criminals and terrorists. This needs to be rectified, he said.

While governments are doing that, they need to establish rules to ensure economic activity online is secured and intellectual property rights are respected. "The rule of law must rule," Coviello insisted.

Finally, the privacy of people online needs to be respected. Personal information is increasingly the currency of the digital world and it has to be protected, he said, and fundamental protections need to be enshrined in law for the future.

"Many will be skeptical or cynical that these principles will be adopted. Many might think me naïve for proposing them," he said. "But there is precedent. We have accords outlawing nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare and war in space, so why not cyberspace?" ®

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