BBC News

Flame: UN urges co-operation to prevent global cyberwar

By Dave Lee
Technology reporter, BBC News

image captionDr Hamadoun Toure said the UN was working closely with developing countries' cyberdefences

The UN has urged countries to seek a "peaceful resolution" in cyberspace to avoid the threat of global cyberwar.

The comments by the head of the UN's telecommunications agency came a week after Flame, one of the most complex cyber-attacks to date, was uncovered.

Dr Hamadoun Toure told the BBC that he did not suspect the US of being behind the attack.

He added that developing countries were being helped to defend themselves more adequately against threats.

Giving his first public interview about the attack, Dr Toure said the UN's International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which co-ordinates the sharing of communication infrastructure across the world, had been following the threat since May.

He said he did not consider Flame to be an act of cyberwar.

"It hasn't reached that level yet as it has been detected in time," he added.

When asked about the attack's possible source, he said: "All indications are that Flame has been created by a nation state, that's clear.

"The ITU is not mandated to make a judgement on who is responsible. Our role is to work with partners to promote better co-operation."

However, Dr Toure said he had discussed the matter directly with some countries, but added: "I don't suspect that the US is behind it."

He said media reports suggesting US involvement in Stuxnet, a previous major attack, were "speculation".

'Weak link'

He told the BBC that it was important for UN member states to work closely to defend themselves against the emerging cyberthreat.

"There is a risk of cyberwar - but it's not necessary. That's what we're trying to do: prevent. We're saying the best way to win a war is to avoid it in the first place."

"As the UN, of course we are interested in making sure there is a peaceful resolution, and a peaceful approach to this.

"Our role is first to co-ordinate international efforts - not only sharing knowledge, but also training people, especially from developing countries because we want to avoid one country being a weak link in the whole process.

image captionThe characteristics of Flame have seen it compared to past attacks like Stuxnet and Duqu

"Therefore, we're trying to see that there's a global effort to keep cyberspace free of politics, ideology and especially free of criminals."

He acknowledged that governments face a challenge in ensuring the safety of their citizens while preserving their freedom online - something Dr Toure said he considered a "basic right".

He added: "There is a fine line between security and freedom.

"Some people try to oppose them. We say no, we want both. You can't be free if you're not secure. You can't have privacy without security - that's why we want to have both."

Efforts to establish the source and full extent of the Flame attack are ongoing.

Kaspersky Labs, one of the companies which first revealed the malware, said this week that the attack sought mainly to steal technical documents from Iran.

More on this story

  • Flame: Attackers 'sought confidential Iran data'