Microsoft president, Brad Smith, has called for a new international body to protect civilians from state-sponsored government hacking.

The original Geneva convention is a set of global agreements designed to protect and regulate the treatment of prisoners of war and civilians during international conflicts. Current Microsoft president, Smith, thinks it’s necessary that a similar set of protocols is agreed for the digital age.

Microsoft president Brad Smith has called for a digital Geneva Convention

Microsoft president Brad Smith has called for a digital Geneva Convention.

Delivering the opening keynote speech at the recent RSA computer security conference in San Francisco, the MS chief said “Let’s face it, cyberspace is the new battlefield… What the world needs is a new international agency … that brings together the best and the brightest in the private sectors, academic, public sector … to observe what happens, then call the question and identify the attackers when nation-state attacks happen.”

Smith drew strong comparisons between the current global rise of nationalism, current events, and the state of the world in the years before the 4th 1949 Geneva Convention was written.

His words were echoed on blogpost on the day of the conference. It read: ‘Responding to the rise in nation-state cybersecurity attacks…. The past year has witnessed not just the growth of cybercrime, but a proliferation in cyberattacks that is both new and disconcerting.  This has included not only cyber-attacks mounted for financial gain, but new nation-state attacks as well.  As engineers and other employees across the tech sector meet in San Francisco, we need to ask ourselves what our response should be.”

Brad Smith's vision of some key aspects a digital Geneva convention might contain.

Brad Smith’s vision of some key aspects a digital Geneva convention might contain.

Smith delivered some sobering statistics in his blogposts, such as the fact that 74% of the world’s businesses expected to be hacked every year, and that the expected loss to cybercrimes is estimated to cost the world economy $3 trillion by 2020.

Cyber-attacks have also been increasingly used in recent years by governments to achieve foreign policy or national security objectives, sometimes in “direct support of traditional battlefield operations.”

Despite the rise of attacks by and against governments, infrastructure and civilians, (most recently of note Russia’s alleged undue influence on the US presidential elections which has now seen three members of President Trump’s inner circle resign over communications with Russian security officials) there are few international agreements in place. One such example however was signed in 2015/6 between 20 countries to show restraint and not hack companies for the theft of intellectual property.

“Our company [Microsoft] is not unique,” Smith concludes. “As an industry, we’ve brought people together in ways that can promote mutual understanding and respect. We need to harness this global understanding to protect people everywhere, earning their confidence as the world’s Digital Switzerland.”

Time will tell.