For the 140 computer network specialists, law enforcement agents and diplomats from eight countries who met at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a German ski resort this week for a Russian-sponsored conference on Internet security, the biggest challenge was finding a common ground to discuss their differences.The barrier was not the variety of native languages but deep differences in how governments view cyberspace, according to many of the specialists there.

That challenge was underscored by a sharp rift between the United States and Russia. Americans speak about computer security and cyberwarfare; the Russians have a different emphasis, describing cyberspace in a broader framework they refer to as information security.

“The Russians have a dramatically different definition of information security than we do; it's a broader notion, and they really mean state security,” said George Sadowsky, a U.S. representative to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann, the closest thing to a governing body for the global network.

What has changed, however, is the Obama administration's decision this year to begin actively discussing these differences with the Russians. While last year only a single American academic computer security specialist attended the conference, this year more than a dozen Americans attended, including Christopher Painter, the second-ranking White House official on cybersecurity, and Judith Strotz, the director of the State Department's Office of Cyber Affairs.

The two nations, according to Russian officials, have agreed to renew bilateral discussions that began in November in Washington. “An international dialogue on cybergovernance, crime and security is really long overdue,'' said Charles L. Barry, a research fellow at the National Defense University.

“There's really only one network out there. We're all on it, and we need to make it safe.”

Painter, speaking on Tuesday, said there had been significant improvement in international law enforcement cooperation in recent years. To respond to challenges in cyberspace, he said, strong laws, trained crime investigators and efficient international cooperation are needed. The United States has succeeded in creating a global 24-hour, seven-day network of law enforcement agencies in 50 nations, which have agreed to collect and share data in response to computer attacks and intrusions. While officials from both nations said that law enforcement cooperation had improved, the Russians have refused to sign the European cybercrime treaty, which the United States strongly backs.

At the same time, for the past 13 years, the Russians have been trying to interest the United States in a treaty in which nations would agree not to develop offensive cyberweapons or to conduct attacks on computer networks. The United States has repeatedly declined to enter into negotiations, arguing instead that improved law enforcement cooperation among countries is all that is necessary to combat cybercrime and cyberterrorism. On Monday, Gen. Vladislav P. Sherstyuk, undersecretary of the Russian Security Council, criticised the treaty, saying that a provision effectively violated Russia's sovereignty by permitting foreign law enforcement direct access to the Russian Internet.

The general also restated Russian concerns about the absence of an international treaty limiting military uses of the Internet. “Cyber attacks are left out of international military law,'' he said. “Information technology can be used as a tool to undermine national peace and security.”

The Americans have accused the Russians of turning a blind eye to cybercriminals who have operated with relative impunity from Russia. In turn, the Russians have criticised what they see as American “hegemony” over the Internet and privately express concerns that the United States has retained a “red button” — the power to shut off the Internet for specific countries. Yet despite these differences, in Garmisch this year there were also signs of agreement between Russians and Americans.

According to one Russian business executive who has attended all four Garmisch events, the tenor of this meeting was markedly different from that of earlier meetings dominated by the Russians. “In the past, the largest group was from the FSB,'' he said, referring to the Russian intelligence agency, “who were here for an annual vacation.” — ©2010 New York Times News Service

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