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View from Iran: World needs rules on cyberattacks (+video)

The US believes that cyberattacks from another country can constitute an 'act of war.' This begs the question of whether the US can unilaterally engage in an unprovoked act against Iran that, according to its own standards, is unacceptable. The world needs global rules on cyberattacks, regardless of where we live and how we think, say Iran's UN diplomats.

COMMENTARY: Harvard Kennedy School professor and former diplomat Nicholas Burns discusses US foreign policy in the Middle East as part of the American Conversation Essentials series.
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The world needs a new international legal instrument on cyberspace, in light of the new waves of trans-border cyberattacks that have become a disturbing aspect of international relations in the 21st century. It is a concern for all, regardless of where we live and how we think.

Cyberattacks are a new phenomenon in the history of modern warfare. They threaten global peace and security and require new norms under international law and principles of the UN Charter. Cyberweapons “can deliver, in the blink of an eye, wild viral behaviors that are easily reproduced and transferred, while lacking target discrimination,” reports the EastWest Institute in New York, which proposes international “rules of engagement” to cope with cyberweapons.

Incredibly, today there are international prohibitions against a soldier throwing a grenade across a border, and yet, prohibitions are comparatively too weak against cybersoldiers targeting other countries’ military, economic, and financial institutions and causing substantial damage. Clearly, there is something amiss and it requires collective international effort to tackle the so-called “digital battlefield.”

Iran, as the current chair of the Non-Aligned Movement and acting as a responsible member of the international community, is firmly committed to the goal of strengthening the international legal instruments dealing with cybersecurity. Such an instrument could conceivably be modeled after other international conventions regulating relations among states, obligating state signatories to not use cyberattacks against others.

For several years now, Iran has been the recipient of a protracted wave of state-sponsored cyberattacks. These attacks have attempted to disrupt our computer systems at power grids, government ministries, nuclear facilities, oil terminals, and other important industrial and economic sectors. They have inflicted financial and property damage and caused occasional disruptions.

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