Time has an in-depth article discussing how a Russian KGB Chief once asked the US for peace in cyberspace:
“From the very beginning it was clear,” he tells TIME by phone from Moscow, where he now works mostly in the private sector. “We told our people, ‘Look, the public may not realize yet what’s going on. But we need to raise the alarm on a political level, because this stuff is a danger to our vital infrastructure.’”
The tables appear to have turned since then. The vital infrastructure now at risk is in the U.S., according to a March 15 report from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, which found that Russian hackers had penetrated deep into the control rooms of U.S. power stations, putting a finger on the light switch of American homes. “Since at least March 2016,” the report states, “Russian government cyber actors…targeted government entities and multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors, including the energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors.”
These were precisely the sorts of attacks that Rubanov had feared from the Americans. He wouldn’t comment on whether Russia was in fact responsible this time; his old habits of discretion die hard, and he still serves as an occasional adviser to the Russian government. But he did note, with a tone of regret rather than self-satisfaction, that the Americans should have listened to his warnings two decades ago.
After the KGB was dissolved in 1991 along with the rest of the Soviet Union, Rubanov went to serve on the Kremlin’s Security Council, where he was also in charge of information security. He soon got to work, along with some colleagues at the Foreign Ministry and other agencies, on drafting rules of engagement for cyber space—a “code of conduct” of the type that governs the use of nuclear and chemical weapons.
“The point was to have a kind of non-aggression pact in the cyber sphere, one that would prohibit such attacks against sovereign nations,” he says. Their hope was that these rules would eventually be adopted by the United Nations and become international law. But the effort stalled, says Rubanov, in large part because the world’s last remaining superpower wasn’t interested. “Each country wants to have guarantees of security, but it does not want to extend those guarantees to others. So this is where we ended up. In a place where no one is safe.”
Global governments still continue to disagree on cyber norms. Until there are firm agreements in place, governments like Russia will continue to exploit the legal vulnerabilities and engage is malicious activities across the planet.
You do have to give Rubanov credit for his poignant observation about the importance of some type of cyber-based non-aggression pact. Imagine where the world would be today had something been agreed upon when Rubanov first brought it up.
A reputed technophobe, Putin had always been mistrustful of the Internet, which he has called a “CIA project.” And like many of Russia’s spy chiefs, he feared that microchips and operating systems imported from the U.S. were designed to function as secret tools of American sabotage, surveillance or both. But there was little he could do about it. In the field of cyber weaponry, “Russian generals felt they were losing the global arms race,” Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan wrote in their recent book, The Red Web, a history of Russian cyber policy. So instead of trying to match American technology, Russia tried using diplomacy “to put some limits on the United States’ offensive capabilities.”
These limits would have amounted to cyber disarmament. As outlined in 2009 by one of Rubanov’s successor at the Security Council, Vladislav Sherstyuk, Russia wanted a ban on cyber implants, which can act as remote-controlled bombs inside an enemy’s computer networks; a ban on the use of deception to hide the source of an attack; and, a rule that would extend humanitarian law into cyber space, effectively banning attacks on civilian targets like banks, hospitals or power stations.
One has to wonder just how genuine Putin was being when he and Sherstyuk discussed a form of cyber disarmament. It sounds more like a ploy to try and outmaneuver the United States rather than an actual desire to disarm cyberspace.
The entire article is well worth reading. It paints a very interesting picture of where the US-Russia relationship was, and where it has come since that time.