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What the U.S. and Russia's Cybersecurity Meeting Means


Top cybersecurity experts from Russia and the United States are meeting for two days in Geneva beginning on April 21st. Among the items on the agenda will be a review of a joint cybersecurity agreement that was signed three years ago. It was meant to improve cybersecurity measures between the two countries - and also improve peace and general security. Furthermore, it has been said that there's a goal of building mutual trust, and that the desire is to highlight international concerns about cybersecurity rather than to explore more specific incidents.

A Difference in Significance

The White House, State Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation are some of the organizations representing the United States, and the American officials are trying to minimize the significance of this upcoming meeting. However, the Russian representatives hope the gathering will restore the normalcy that was sacrificed a couple of years ago after Russia annexed Crimea and invaded Eastern Ukraine, hindering American-Russian relations.

Details About the Previous Agreement

As previously mentioned, one of the defined purposes of this meeting is to look over the 2013 cybersecurity agreement made between the two countries. The 2013 agreement took two years to draft, and it was intended to improve transparency and strengthen the existing relationship between the two countries.

It also established national centers to minimize IT-related threats. Notably, they were used when Russian officials were preparing for the Olympic Games. The centers operate 24 hours a day, and facilitate communications between Russian authorities and the U.S. military following cyberattacks. There was also a hotline created to discourage the two countries from escalating cyberthreats against each other.

Back when the document was signed, some critics pointed out that while it may be beneficial for the countries to share information about cyberthreats with each other, it would be important not to promise things that can't be upheld. For example, Russia practices Internet censorship to the point of shuttering websites that are seen as threatening to the government.

Analysts argued a cybersecurity partnership would allow Russia to access American plans while continuing the censorship that goes on in its own country. However, it's true that some international standards help businesses manage information security by enforcing confidentiality measures and ensuring compliance with laws, so perhaps those aims were in mind while drafting the 2013 agreement.

A Ukrainian Power Grid Attack May Have Raised Concerns

Although officials say they meet periodically to discuss matters of cybersecurity, it's possible the meetings this week might have been triggered by a wide-scale attack on the Ukrainian power grid that happened at the end of last year. It was thought to be the first of its kind.

Although the Obama administration has not blamed Russia for the attack, other American officials have not been so lenient. It's important to note that it can be hard to pinpoint the people responsible for such attacks because experienced hackers conceal their locations.

Hackers attacked the power grid by seizing control of computers and ultimately causing power outages for over 200,000 residents. Furthermore, the hackers disabled backup power equipment, so power plant operators found it hard to tackle the issue. Experts say the Ukrainian power grid was more secure than expected, and even more locked down than some grids in the United States.

Even so, U.S. officials are aware that hackers from Iran, China and Russia are among those looking for ways to infiltrate power grids stateside. The Ukrainian attack has not been cited as a specific reason for this upcoming meeting, but because it was such a major attack, the attendees may decide it's not practical to bypass the matter during their discussions.

A Chinese-Russian Agreement

Russia also has a cybersecurity agreement with China. It ensures closer cooperation between the two countries than the one between Russia and the United States, but it does have some similarities. For example, they will work together to prevent technology-based terrorist attacks, and will not launch cyberattacks against each other.

In March, a Russian official proposed American officials might hold further high-level discussions about cybersecurity soon, so maybe the Geneva meeting will set the tone for upcoming meetings. Since word about what exactly will be covered during the Geneva gathering has been a little vague, we can only intelligently speculate what sorts of advancements will grow from the event.


About the Author

Kayla Matthews is a tech-loving blogger who writes and edits Follow her on Twitter to read all of her latest posts! 
Published Thursday, April 21, 2016 11:40 AM by David Marshall
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