U.S., Russia slowly improve cybersecurity cooperation

But initiatives are under way to break the ice between U.S., Russia and China

Lingering distrust between the U.S., Russia and China has hampered cooperation in the past on cyber security issues, but relations are taking a turn for the better, with increasing contact between experts.

The U.S. and Russia have "historical, ideological differences," but several recent initiatives are bringing the two countries closer, said Karl F. Rauscher, chief technology officer and distinguished fellow at the EastWest Institute.

"We are increasingly interdependent," Rauscher said. "Both countries have a common interest in stability."

That cooperation was evident in Brussels this week, where the EastWest Institute is holding its 8th Worldwide Security Conference, whose participants included a range of Russian experts as well as others from India, the U.S. and China and throughout Europe.

The countries and region are key in the institute's Worldwide Cybersecurity Initiative, which was launched two years ago to bring industry and government closer on computer security concerns.

One of the EastWest Institute's ongoing projects is working with the Information Security Institute at Moscow State University on defining terms around cyber issues.

Defining terms can seem to a bit of a dry exercise, said Paul Nicholas , senior director of Global Security Strategy for Microsoft, but the work has "brought a lot of clarity between U.S. and Russian subject matter experts in terms of what had been longstanding confusion or misunderstanding between viewpoints."

"I think we arrived at a cleaner set of terms that we could use essentially to communicate and avoid situations of conflict or misunderstanding that could spin out of control," Nicholas said.

Past efforts at defining a cyber lexicon between the U.S. and Russia had failed for more than a decade, but Rauscher said the participants in the latest process cast aside pre-determined ideas and political interests.

The 20 terms, which include phrases such as what is "critical cyber infrastructure" and "cyber conflict," were released in April. Rauscher said they plan to define 20 more terms.

Progress is also being made with China, a country frequently accused of harboring hackers.

The EastWest Institute and the Internet Society of China, which represents various industry and government stakeholders, released a study about spam in June that represented the first time U.S. and Chinese experts had worked together on a major Internet problem.

The report pulled no punches when addressing the tension between the U.S. and China. In its preface, it says: "In a time when heated verbal and written exchanges between our two countries are the norm for most topics related to cyberspace, the tone of this report is an exception."

In a few months, Rauscher said Russia plan to meet with U.S. and Chinese experts to share spam-fighting expertise.

Overall, experts from countries such as India, China, Russia and the U.S. are increasingly more directly dealing with one another, said Andrey Korotkov, who is head of the Department of Global Information Processes and Resources at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.

"We have direct contacts with our American partners," Korotkov said. "Somewhere in between we can find the right solutions for both sides."

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com

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