U.S., Russia Discuss Cyber Hotline

Timothy Farnsworth

Russian and U.S. negotiators are working on an agreement to establish a hotline for cyberattacks similar to one used since 1988 to prevent accidental nuclear war, a Department of State official said in a May 25 interview.

The hotline is one of several measures that Washington is discussing with Moscow to build greater confidence and create an environment that would lessen misperceptions in cyberspace that could result in potential cyberconflicts. The United States does not have such an agreement with Russia or any country, the official said.

Russian negotiators requested the creation of a cyber hotline that would be used by Russia or the United States only in cases of malicious cyberactivity that might originate in the other’s territory and be perceived as threatening to national security, the official said. The request is part of a series of bilateral talks between the United States and Russia, which began in February 2011, about confidence-building measures to prevent cyberconflict between the two countries.

According to the official, the hotline request would be in addition to three measures originally proposed by the United States: an exchange of cybersecurity white papers between the two militaries, establishment of a link between the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team and its Russian counterpart, and the creation of a crisis prevention mechanism through the Nuclear Risk Reduction Center, which began operations in 1988 and includes a number of bilateral and multilateral international communications links dealing with nuclear, chemical, and conventional arms alerts. The Russian proposal is in addition to the risk reduction center and would establish a direct physical phone line between the Kremlin and the White House, the official said.

According to a July 2011 blog post by White House Cybersecurity Coordinator and Special Assistant to the President Howard Schmidt, the two sides had planned to have all three original mechanisms completed by the end of 2011.

They met that goal for the exchange of white papers. The United States sent its paper—the unclassified “Department of Defense Strategy for Operating in Cyberspace” (see ACT, September 2011)—last summer, and the Russians sent theirs in December, the official said.

The other three pieces are close to completion, but have not been finalized, the official said.