On Critical Infrastructure Protection and International Agreements

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This paper evaluates the prospects for protecting critical social functions from “cyber” attacks carried out over electronic information networks. In particular, it focuses on the feasibility of devising international laws, conventions or agreements to deter and/or punish perpetrators of such attacks. First,it briefly summarizes existing conventions and laws, and explains to which technological issues they can apply. The paper then turns to a technical discussion of the threats faced by critical infrastructure. By distinguishing between the different types of attacks (theft of information, destructive penetration, denial of service, etc.) that can be conducted, and examining the role of collateral damages in information security, the paper identifies the major challenges in devising and implementing international conventions for critical infrastructure protection. It then turns to a practical examination of how these findings apply to specific instances of critical networks (power grids and water systems, financial infrastructure, air traffic control and hospital networks), and draws conclusions about potential remedies. A notable finding is that critical functions should be isolated from non-critical functions in the network to have a chance to implement viable international agreements; and that, given the difficulty in performing attack attribution, other relevant laws should be designed with the objective of reducing negative externalities that facilitate such attacks.