Protect Good Faith Security Research Globally in Proposed UN Cybercrime Treaty

Deeplinks 2024-02-07


Statement to be submitted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, accredited under operative paragraph No. 9 of UN General Assembly Resolution 75/282, on behalf of 124 signatories.

We, the undersigned, representing a broad spectrum of the global security research community, write to express our serious concerns about the UN Cybercrime Treaty drafts released during the sixth session and the most recent one. These drafts pose substantial risks to global cybersecurity and significantly impact the rights and activities of good faith cybersecurity researchers. Our community, which includes good faith security researchers in academia and cybersecurity companies, as well as those working independently, plays a critical role in safeguarding information technology systems. We identify vulnerabilities that, if left unchecked, can spread malware, cause data breaches, and give criminals access to sensitive information of millions of people. We rely on the freedom to openly discuss, analyze, and test these systems, free of legal threats. The nature of our work is to research, discover, and report vulnerabilities in networks, operating systems, devices, firmware, and software. However, several provisions in the draft treaty risk hindering our work by categorizing much of it as criminal activity. If adopted in its current form, the proposed treaty would increase the risk that good faith security researchers could face prosecution, even when our goal is to enhance technological safety and educate the public on cybersecurity matters. It is critical that legal frameworks support our efforts to find and disclose technological weaknesses to make everyone more secure, rather than penalize us, and chill the very research and disclosure needed to keep us safe. This support is essential to improving the security and safety of technology for everyone across the world. Equally important is our ability to differentiate our legitimate security research activities from malicious exploitation of security flaws. Current laws focusing on “unauthorized access” can be misapplied to good faith security researchers, leading to unnecessary legal challenges. In addressing this, we must consider two potential obstacles to our vital work. Broad, undefined rules for prior authorization risk deterring good faith security researchers, as they may not understand when or under what circumstances they need permission. This lack of clarity could ultimately weaken everyone's online safety and security. Moreover, our work often involves uncovering unknown vulnerabilities. These are security weaknesses that no one, including the system's owners, knows about until we discover them. We cannot be certain what vulnerabilities we might find. Therefore, requiring us to obtain prior authorization for each potential discovery is impractical and overlooks the essence of our work. The unique strength of the security research community lies in its global focus, which prioritizes safeguarding infrastructure and protecting users worldwide, often putting aside geopolitical interests. Our work, particularly the open publication of research, minimizes and prevents harm that could impact people globally, transcending particular jurisdictions. The proposed treaty’s failure to exempt good faith security research from the expansive scope of its cybercrime prohibitions and to make the safeguards and limitations in Article 6-10 mandatory leaves the door wide open for states to suppress or control the flow of security related information. This would undermine the universal benefit of openly shared cybersecurity knowledge, and ultimately the safety and security of the digital environment. We urge states to recognize the vital role the security research community plays in defending our digital ecosystem against cybercriminals, and call on delegations to ensure that the treaty supports, rather than hinders, our efforts to enhance global cybersecurity and prevent cybercrime. Specifically: Article 6 (Illegal Access): This article risks criminalizing essential activities in security research, particularly where researchers access systems without prior authorization, to identify vulnerabilities. A clearer distinction is needed between malicious unauthorized access “without right” and “good faith” security research activities; safeguards for legitimate activities should be mandatory. A malicious intent requirementincluding an intent to cause damage, defraud, or harmis needed to avoid criminal liability for accidental or unintended access to a computer system, as well as for good faith security testing. Article 6 should not use the ambiguous term “without right” as a basis for establishing criminal liability for unauthorized acce


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Karen Gullo

Date tagged:

02/07/2024, 17:34

Date published:

02/07/2024, 10:57