UNICEF’s new analysis: ‘Protecting Children in Cyberconflicts’
In this rapid analysis, UNICEF made 5 important questions:
1. How are AI technologies and the use of cyber operations changing the nature of conflict?
2. Who are the actors in cyberconflict?
3. What types of risks do offensive cyber operations pose to children?
4. What legal and other provisions exist to protect children from harm caused by cyberconflict and where are the gaps?
5. What should organizations working for and with children do to strengthen protections in cyberconflict?
The ones we will focus on in this update are the last three questions. Firstly, it is important to focus on question number 3 – What types of risks do offensive cyber operations pose to children? As UNICEF experts highlighted the most important ones are:
- Behavioral surveillance, profiling, and targeting of children during conflict operations.
- Behavioral engineering as a potential pathway to child recruitment into and use by armed forces and non-state armed groups.
- Information operations and their impact on children.
- Health and biotech sectors.
- Education sector (‘Large-scale, multi-vector attacks could increasingly infect myriad layers of schools’ digital systems…’).
- Critical industrial control systems in urban environments.
- Cyber threats to humanitarian datasets and services critical to child well-being and protection.
Question number 4 focuses on – What legal and other provisions exist to protect children from harm caused by cyberconflict and where are the gaps?
UNICEF notes that attributing responsibility for child rights violations while protecting sensitive information from digital manipulation and theft is crucial. ‘Many analysts would argue that the combination of IHL, international criminal law, human rights law, and child rights law are adequate to address the emerging issues posed by cyberconflict and the technology it involves. Nevertheless, several key challenges persist.’
Question number 5 – What should organizations working for and with children do to strengthen protection in cyberconflict?
It is necessary to engage with normative policy development processes. UNICEF sees OEWG (Open-Ended Working Group) as an important platform for dialogue for States to develop norms to strengthen children’s rights protection from cyber attacks. It is important to further strengthen understanding of the potential risks to children of cyberconflict as well. What also is an obligation of States is the reinforcement of normative and legal frameworks to strengthen child protection during cyberconflict and translating them into action. The last two that were mentioned were the strengthening of monitoring and investigation mechanisms and defining corporate responsibility in cyberconflict.