The Relationship Between the Biological Weapons Convention and Cybersecurity

March 26, 2015

Today, the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC)—the first treaty to ban an entire class of weapons—marks the 40th anniversary of its entry into force. Reflections on this milestone will examine the BWC’s successes and travails, such as its ratification by 173 countries, its lack of a verification mechanism, and what the future holds. Although not prominent in these discussions, the BWC relates to cybersecurity in two ways. First, the BWC is often seen as a model for regulating dual-use cyber technologies because the treaty attempts to advance scientific progress while preventing its exploitation for hostile purposes. Second, the biological sciences’ increasing dependence on information technologies makes cybersecurity a growing risk and, thus, a threat to BWC objectives.

The BWC as a Model for Cybersecurity

The BWC addresses a dual-use technology with many applications, including the potential to be weaponized. Similarly, cyber technologies have productive uses that could be imperiled with the development of cyber weapons. Those concerned about cyber weapons often turn to the BWC for guidance because of characteristics biology shares with cyber—the thin line between research and weaponization, the global dissemination of technologies and know-how, the tremendous benefits of peaceful research, and the need to adapt to new threats created by scientific and political change.

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