Several high-profile tech companies signed a [deep sigh] “cybersecurity accord” today promising not to, I guess, do war. The Cybersecurity Tech Accord is, according to its press release, “a watershed agreement among the largest-ever group of companies agreeing to defend all customers everywhere from malicious attacks by cybercriminal enterprises and nation-states.” In other words, companies do good, and no do bad.
According to the New York Times, the principles laid out in the document “have been circulating among senior executives in the tech industry for weeks.” Of the big five tech companies, only Microsoft and Facebook have signed on, while Google, Amazon, and Apple have stayed off.
It makes sense that Facebook, in the midst of a public-relations crisis, would sign on to a document about not helping wage war. On the other hand, it makes sense that companies like Google and Amazon and Apple didn’t sign because the accord is simply unworkable.
Point one of the accord states that signatories “will protect all of our users and customers everywhere,” which is a very nice goal, and also impossible? They will also “oppose cyberattacks on innocent citizens and enterprises from anywhere,” which is, again, an obvious point, and it’s also kinda weird that a multinational capitalist behemoth like Microsoft would need to spell that out.
It’s nice to attempt to remain neutral in the face of government interference, regulation, and interest in the tech industry, but at some point, resisting one country’s cyberwarfare tactics means indirectly helping another. As Congress takes a closer look at regulating American technology companies, and some regulators espouse an “America first” mind-set, the accord acts as both a resistance and a taunt.
What this mostly amounts to is marketing. Several of the signatories are hardware manufacturers whose equipment is believed to have been compromised by intelligence agencies, including the NSA. It is yet another document for the purposes of stating that hardware manufacturers are not willingly acceding to the NSA’s demands for backdoors into their systems.
Meanwhile, Amazon, a leading cloud-computing business, offers its servers up to the government. These are lucrative contracts the company might not be able to fulfill if it pledges to not help wage cyberwar. Thousands of Google employees, meanwhile, have asked the company to stop helping the government develop drone technology, though Google asserts that it’s merely helping with optics equipment and not, you know, the parts that go boom.