The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued first-of-its-kind rules of engagement for civilian hackers in conflicts. The organisation released the rulebook in wake of unprecedented numbers of civilians joining patriotic cyber-gangs since the Ukraine invasion.
The rulebook is of eight rules comprising of bans on attack on hospitals, hacking tools that spread uncontrollably and threats that may terrorise civilians. The rulebook also comes with a warning to hackers, that their acts may jeopardize lives, including their own, if they are designated a legitimate military target.
Many cyber gangs, however, intend to ignore the rules, as per reports.
ICRC’s 8 rules for ‘hackitvists’
Based on international humanitarian law, the rules are:
1. Do not direct cyber-attacks against civilian objects
2. Do not use malware or other tools or techniques that spread automatically and damage military objectives and civilian objects indiscriminately
3. When planning a cyber-attack against a military objective, do everything feasible to avoid or minimise the effects your operation may have on civilians
4. Do not conduct any cyber-operation against medical and humanitarian facilities
5. Do not conduct any cyber-attack against objects indispensable to the survival of the population or that can release dangerous forces
6. Do not make threats of violence to spread terror among the civilian population
7. Do not incite violations of international humanitarian law
8. Comply with these rules even if the enemy does not
‘Patriotic hacking’: A new weapon of war
ICRC is sending the new rules to hacking groups specifically involved in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. In the past, hacking has been increasingly used as a weapon of war. A new form of hacking, called ‘patriotic hacking’, has rise over the past decade.
The ICRC statement highlights pro-Syrian cyber attacks on Western news media in 2013. This worrying trend further accelerated by the Russia-Ukraine conflict and is now spreading globally, ICRC legal adviser Tilman Rodenhäuser says.
“Some experts consider civilian hacking activity as ‘cyber-vigilantism’ and argue that their operations are technically not sophisticated and unlikely to cause significant effects,” he says.
The ICRC is also imploring governments to restrain hacking and enforce existing laws.
The Ukraine conflict has blurred the boundaries between civilian and military hacking, with civilian groups such as the IT Army of Ukraine being set up and encouraged by the government to attack Russian targets.
The IT Army of Ukraine, which has 160,000 members on its Telegram channel, also targets public services such as railway systems and banks.
Large groups in Russia have similarly attacked Ukraine and allied countries – including disruptive but temporary attacks, such as knocking websites offline, on hospitals.
(With inputs from agencies)
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