Red Cross ponders digital insignia to protect from cyber attacks

The red cross and red crescent symbols are displayed to protect people and infrastructure from attack. Keystone / Ali Haider

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has drafted digital versions of its red cross and red crescent emblems to ward off cyber attackers.

This content was published on November 4, 2022 – 14:42

The physical versions of the red cross and crescent insignia are displayed on hospitals and ambulances as a sign that they should not be subject to attack.

But the ICRC now wants to address that fact that cyberspace is increasingly becoming a new theatre for military conflict.

Hacks on digital infrastructure could severely hamper the efforts of ICRC operations and could shut down hospitals.

The Geneva-based ICRC was the victim of an attack in January when servers hosting the personal and confidential data of more than 515,000 extremely vulnerable people were compromised.

Speaking to Swiss public broadcaster RTS on Friday, ICRC vice-president Gilles Carbonnier said cyber attacks are a growing problem for humanitarian work.

“They are on the increase, not just in cases of armed conflict, but even outside of this area,” he said. “It’s a real concern that deserves the study we are currently conducting.”

No time-scale was given for how long the studies could take.

In addition to clearly identifying humanitarian digital infrastructures to would-be hackers, the ICRC wants countries to agree on new laws to bring those responsible to justice.

“We must take measures to strengthen the cybersecurity of hospitals and of humanitarian missions,” said Carbonnier. “At the same time, we must confer legal protection, under international law, against these attacks.”

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