Updates to this story
A proposal for “rules of engagement” for cyber warfare is to be made by security experts from Russia and the US tomorrow.
The proposals, reported by BBC Newsnight, call for a rendition of the Geneva and Hague conventions in the virtual world.
They will be laid out before many of the world's leaders, including UK Prime Minister David Cameron, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
One of the primary focuses of the proposal is to develop policies to protect essential cyber facilities that support our hospitals and schools. It was suggested that clear markers be employed to differentiate between military and civilian targets, which is relatively clear in the real world but much more muddied in cyberspace.
The dangers of cyber attacks include silent embedded malware, which has the potential to disable power grids, cut off water supplies and halt manufacturing systems, all of which could have a disastrous effect on the welfare of a country's citizens, as well as the overall economy. While not explicitly stated, Stuxnet is an obvious example of how this could be employed.
With high profile targets like the UK and US stock exchanges falling victim to attacks, the potential for financial devastation is huge, a point which may force many countries to join together to develop stronger cyber defences and a better series of policies to deal with the problem.
However, the BBC reported that the UK is reluctant to negotiate a new treaty on the issue, which could be a stumbling block for other countries. Despite this, the UK is investing substantial money in cyber defence, including a new Cyber Security Operations Centre. It has also agreed today to opt into the EU's cyber crime plan, which will see it bring in new legislation to tackle the situation.
It will also be proposed that countries should stop thinking in black and white terms, of peace and war, and instead focus on the reality of grey positions in between, in a state the security experts call “other than war”.