UN adopts report to build an open and peaceful cyberspace

Ambassador Jürg Lauber, chair of the OEWG, after the adoption of the report. Source: @SecurityPolCH/Twitter.

A United Nations working group has adopted a final draft report addressing peace and security in cyberspace. 

The security-focused UN Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) was established in 2019 by the UN General Assembly to explore the potential risks and threats posed by the boom in information and communications technology (ICT) to global security.

The group, chaired by ambassador Jürg Lauber, permanent representative of Switzerland to the UN in Geneva, brought together the private sector, academics, civil society groups as well as member states.

Why is it important? Cyber threats have been rapidly increasing in sophistication as the world becomes increasingly interconnected and reliant on digital technologies.

The final draft report published last week outlines member states’ “increasing concern” about the implications of the malicious use of ICTs for peace and security makes recommendations for how to address them.

Among the risks raised, the report said the use of technology for military purposes and in future conflicts “is becoming more likely”.

“The continuing increase in incidents involving the malicious use of ICTs by state and non-state actors, including terrorists and criminal groups, is a disturbing trend. Some non-state actors have demonstrated ICT capabilities previously only available to states.”

States emphasised that it was the misuse of technologies, “not the technologies themselves”, that posed a threat and called for greater cooperation in addressing such threats.

Keeping the peace. The report made a number of recommendations to ensure that the growing use of new digital technologies does not undermine peace and global security.

  • International Law..Under international law, and the Charter of the United Nations in particular, countries have a duty to maintain peace, security and stability in the ICT environment, in other words cyberspace. However international law applies to the use of ICTs is not always fully understood.

“States concluded that there was a need for additional neutral and objective efforts to build capacity in the areas of international law, national legislation and policy.”

  • Voluntary norms. The report highlights that norms implemented by countries on a voluntary basis provide additional and specific guidance on what constitutes responsible state behaviour in the use of ICTs.

  • Confidence building measures (CBMs), actions taken to promote transparency, for example, can help contribute to preventing conflicts, avoiding misperception and misunderstandings, and the reduction of tensions.

  • Dialogue under UN auspices will continue to help strengthen international peace, stability and prevention of conflicts in the ICT environment, the report concludes, adding that in light of increasing dependency on ICTs, “there was an urgent need to continue to enhance common understandings, build confidence and intensify international cooperation”