Global cyber war treaties urgently needed: Bruce Schneier

Security expert says we are at the beginning of a cyber war arms race

Rules of engagement between different countries should be established before a major Web-based attack takes place according to BT Group’s US chief security technology officer, Bruce Schneier.

Speaking at a BT briefing in Sydney, he said the world was in the early years of a cyber war arms race, something that’s not in anyone's best interests.

“Unless this is stopped, we will see an increased militarisation of cyberspace and that affects the protocols and networks we use,” he said.

“There’s a doctrine called preparing the battlefield where countries will do things that aren’t overtly offensive but prepare them for later on.”

According to Schneier, under that doctrine, both the United States and China had been penetrating each other’s networks and leaving behind malicious pieces of code called logic bombs which could be used later.

“This is concerning because first off, the [logic bombs] can go off accidently and it crosses a line.”

To prevent this from happening, Schneier called for cyber war treaties, similar to nuclear weapon treaties agreed to by countries such as the US and Russia, to be developed and signed.

“I’d like to see decisions about what cyber weapons we are building and using to be approved by the [US] president because there is too much chance of it getting out of hand,” he said.

According to Schneier, the Stuxnet worm which infected a nuclear facility in Iran during June 2009 was an example of how to create a highly targeted and well-written cyber weapon and it “still went wrong” as there were reports that it managed to escape the facility.

“It’s been blamed for a satellite outage in India and an industrial plant in China which just happened to have a similar industrial control system,” he said.

“Even if you target your weapons they can still have collateral damage in other countries.”

In addition to the treaties, Schneier suggested countries establish rules of engagement in cyberspace and understand what he called cyber mercenaries and non-state actors, who range from terrorists to “kids playing politics.”

“Last year, the group Anonymous told the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation [NATO] not to mess with it. We’re not supposed to be living in a world where a bunch of guys threaten NATO.”

In conclusion, Schenier said that people also needed to stop feeding their own fears about cyber war.

“There is a lot of rhetoric out there because it’s financially profitable and a lot of US companies are making good money out of cyber war contracts.”

“This rhetoric ratchets up and just makes everything worse. The more we calm down and discuss this rationally, the more we can look at cyber war, the broader advanced persistent threat [APT] and how that affects us,” he said.

Got a security tip-off? Contact Hamish Barwick at hamish_barwick at

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags BT GroupStuxnetbruce schneiercyberwar

More about APTBT AustralasiaBT GroupNATO

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Hamish Barwick

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place