Microsoft president calls for 'digital Geneva Convention' to protect civilians from cyberattacks

Civilian infrastructure, including civilian governmental systems, should be off limits, he said, pointing to the 1949 Geneva Convention, which outlines how nations must treat civilians in times of war. We will not aid in attacking customers anywhere, regardless of the government that may ask us to do so, " Smith said, according to USA Today. However, there are few global agreements about the acceptable uses of cyber attacks by nation-states to achieve foreign policy and national security objectives.

Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith says governments should craft an global agreement that protects civilians from nation-state cyberattacks, with defensive assistance from technology companies that run the majority of internet infrastructure.

The issue of nation-state hacking has heated up in the aftermath of the US election, with the intelligence community's assessment that Russian Federation sought to sway the election in favor of President Donald Trump.

Technology companies must retain the trust of their customers and must not assist governments with their hacking schemes even though world leaders may request them to do so.

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And so, Smith said, "When it comes to attacks, [the tech industry] is not only the plain of battle, we are the world's first responders".

"Even in an age of rising nationalism, we need to become a trusted and neutral digital Switzerland", Smith told the audience, making an oblique reference to the rise of nationalist political movements in the USA and Europe.

This could be policed by an independent organization similar to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which seeks to avoid proliferation of nuclear weapons.

As an example of how technology companies can work together, he cited how Microsoft was impressed with other big tech companies like Google (goog) and Facebook (fb) in how they notified their users when their accounts may have been compromised in state-sponsored attacks.

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Smith is concerned that people and civilian infrastructure like the electric grid will be vulnerable to digital attacks.

Smith explains that Microsoft has an extensive war chest to keep services running, Headed up by a Cyber Defence Operations Centre, the company also uses legal recourse on offences such as cybersquatting adding an additional layer to its arsenal, which still only represents one company's role as other corporations mount similar counter responses across both the digital and physical worlds.

While Microsoft has not staked out such territory as broadly and vocally as Google, with its "Don't be evil" corporate motto, or Apple, which spent 43 days fighting Federal Bureau of Investigation efforts to force it to aid in hacking an iPhone used by terrorists, with this speech Microsoft may have moved closer to that territory. No meeting of tech companies has been called, but that would be a plausible next step. "And it is a different kind of battlefield than the world has seen before".

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