War is also subject to the changes of digitalization. In a possible cyberwar, humanitarian and medical actors are to be protected. To this end, there are now several proposals to digitally implement the emblem of the Red Cross.

Why a digital red cross?

For a long time, the emblems of the red cross and the red crescent have symbolized infrastructures of humanitarian organizations that are worthy of protection. Under international humanitarian law, such structures must be protected from any harm in times of armed conflict.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) states, "For more than 150 years, protective symbols such as the red cross have been used to convey a simple message: In times of armed conflict, those who wear the red cross or facilities and objects marked with it must be protected from harm. The obligation of all warring parties to respect and protect medical and humanitarian actors applies online as well."

Online, the digital red cross should also show state hackers that humanitarian structures are involved in the event of a cyberwar, he said. This would allow states to conduct cyber operations while identifying and sparing such structures. To do this, there would need to be agreement among states on what a digital implementation should look like. This digital implementation must then also be incorporated into international law.

Proposal 1: DNS based red cross

The first proposal of the ICRC implements the digital red cross DNS-based. A label is then transmitted with a DNS query. Via this label, a link is provided that leads to the digital emblem.

This provides a solution that is both simple and human-readable.

Proposal 2: IP based red cross

The second ICRC proposal implements the digital red cross IP-based. Here, a specific sequence of numbers within the IP address symbolizes the emblem by embedding semantics. This could also be used to identify protected digital content traversing the network.

This proposal could run into problems with the limited IPv4 addresses.

Proposal 3: Red Cross with ADEM

The second ICRC proposal wants to implement the digital Red Cross using an ADEM (Authenticated Digital Emblem) system. Such a system uses certificate chains for signal protection. In this approach, these certificates can be authenticated by different actors and communicated via different Internet protocols.

The ICRC has already developed this proposal in 2020. The certificates, which are signed by institutions in a similar way to TLS, could also be available for hospitals.

Development of a solution

There is no final solution yet. The ICRC is collaborating on the development with the Center for Cyber Trust, a joint project of ETH Zurich and the University of Bonn, as well as Johns Hopkins University and ITMO University of Saint Petersburg. Also involved in the form of a roundtable are the Australian Red Cross, security firms and former government officials, as well as white-hat hackers and representatives of Red Cross national societies.

You can download the original report of the ICRC here read up.

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