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State Department pushes for international norms of cyber conduct

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While the use of sanctions isn't completely out of the question, the State Department's primary role in U.S. cybersecurity policy is to establish and promote international norms of acceptable conduct in cyberspace, said a department official during a March 21 hearing of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and emerging threats.

The department is particularly keen on spreading the idea that the theft of intellectual property is not acceptable behavior in cyberspace, said Christopher Painter, coordinator of the State Department's office of cyber issues.

Some governments are naturally in line with U.S. thinking on cyber policy issues. Others favor top-down governmental control of content, for example. Painter specifically called out Russia and China for their "different worldview." He said the United States seeks deeper engagement with both countries on a variety of cyber issues.

Echoing President Obama's recent caution not to confuse cyber espionage with cyberwar, Painter stopped short of stating what would be considered an act of war in cyberspace.

"We'd have to be careful to look at this in terms of retaliation," said Painter. "We want to make sure that we are addressing the problem and addressing it in the larger context of any country we're dealing with."

Cyber threats can be categorized as attacks that could cripple infrastructure--which Painter called a "remote" threat but still worth considering--and the problems faced everyday in "the large-scale unacceptable theft of intellectual property."

"We're talking to countries that we believe are involved in this activity, we're talking to our allies about this. We're also considering other actions more generally. But I think it's not that it's cyber warfare, but that is something that I think is clearly damaging the American economy," said Painter.

Painter said he is encouraged by the fact that more and more countries are adopting national strategies for cyberspace. This will help formalize norms of international conduct, he said.

"In the international strategy we have a deterrence policy there. We say we'll use all tools that we have," said Painter. "Diplomatic is one of them, just one of them."

For more:
- go to the hearing page (includes prepared testimony and archived webcast)

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