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By Brian Robinson

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Cyber war, drug war -- what's the difference?

Some senators introduced a bipartisan bill this week that would require the U.S. government to crack down on countries that harbor cyber criminals by imposing sanctions, if necessary.

The International Cybercrime Reporting and Cooperation Act, co-sponsored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), is being likened to the beginning of a cyber version of the war on drugs.

Apparently, the president would be required to report annually to Congress on the state of particular countries’ use of information technology in their infrastructure, how much cyber crime is based in that country, what the country is doing to fight cyber crime, etc. The resulting table of cyber crime offenders would then be used to decide what sanctions to apply.

The war on drugs is a good analogy, but the bill is also similar to older efforts to try to stamp out anti-competitive trade practices. In fact, many of the countries that regularly found themselves highlighted in those reports – China, Russia and others – would probably also appear at the top of the cyber crime tables.

One thing that’s different is that the Gillibrand-Hatch bill calls on the United States to focus its carrot-and-stick approach on countries that don’t have much of a cyber infrastructure now, so that any aid the U.S. provides to help them build that infrastructure would be tied to making sure those cyber-poor nations keep the criminals out.

Sounds cool, except that the analogies don’t provide for much optimism. The war on drugs has largely been a failure, and the trade sanctions stuff mainly served to make people mad and resulted in very little real reduction in anti-competitive behavior.

Also, as this Ars Technica story points out, the countries that have reputedly been the most active in hosting domestic hacker/cyber crime efforts – such as China and Russia – don’t get a lot of aid from the U.S. and are only too happy to thumb their noses at us.

A final point: Is this bill, and other legislation like it that will presumably come along, a prelude to a cyber Cold War? I mean, if we are talking about analogies, why not throw that one out there? Once we actually decide on what cyber war is, that seems a natural next step.

Posted by Brian Robinson on Mar 25, 2010 at 12:19 PM


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