Feb 28, 2022 - World

Microsoft: Cyberattacks on Ukraine "raise serious concerns" under Geneva Convention

Brad Smith
Brad Smith, president of Microsoft. Photo: S3studio/Getty Images

Microsoft president and vice chair Brad Smith wrote in a blog post Monday that recent cyberattacks on Ukraine's civilian digital infrastructure "raise serious concerns under the Geneva Convention."

Why it matters: U.S. officials have warned that cyberattacks will play a key role in Russia's invasion, but Smith's words hint that targeting civilian infrastructure could amount to war crimes under the convention, which sets limits on traditional warfare, CNN's Brian Fung notes.

  • Tech giants that provide services around the world prefer not to take sides in conflicts where they operate in both combatants' territory, but Russia's invasion of Ukraine is making that stance tough to maintain, writes Axios' Sara Fischer.

State of play: Smith said that Microsoft's Threat Intelligence Center detected a "new round of offensive and destructive cyberattacks" targeting Ukraine's digital infrastructure hours before Russian military movement on Feb. 24.

  • The company notified the Ukrainian government and has since provided "threat intelligence and defensive suggestions" relating to attacks on targets including Ukrainian military institutions and other government agencies.

What he's saying: "These recent and ongoing cyberattacks have been precisely targeted, and we have not seen the use of the indiscriminate malware technology that spread across Ukraine's economy and beyond its borders in the 2017 NotPetya attack," Smith wrote.

  • "But we remain especially concerned about recent cyberattacks on Ukrainian civilian digital targets, including the financial sector, agriculture sector, emergency response services, humanitarian aid efforts, and energy sector organizations and enterprises," he added.
  • "These attacks on civilian targets raise serious concerns under the Geneva Convention," he said. The convention considers it a war crime to intentionally direct attacks against civilian populations or civilian objects.

Worth noting: Microsoft has removed state-sponsored RT and Sputnik content from its platform and is de-ranking their search results on Bing so links will only show up when a user is looking for those pages directly, according to Smith.

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