Cyber security played a outstanding role in international affairs in 2017, with impacts on peace and security.

Increased international collaboration and recent laws that capture the complexity of communications technology could possibly be amongst solutions to cyber security issues in 2018.

The US election hack and the top of cyber scepticism

The big story of the past 12 months has been the subversion of the US election process and the continued controversies surrounding the Trump administration. The investigations into the scandal are unresolved, but it’s important to recognise that the US election hack has dispelled any lingering scepticism in regards to the impact of cyber attacks on national and international security.

From the self-confessed “mistake” Secretary Clinton made in establishing a non-public email server, to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s servers and the leaking of Democratic campaign chair John Podesta’s emails to WikiLeaks, the 2016 presidential election was in some ways defined by cyber security issues.

Many analysts had been debating the likelihood of a “digital Pearl Harbour”, an attack producing devastating economic disruption or physical effects. But they missed the more subtle and covert political scope of cyber attacks to coerce changes in political behaviour and subvert systems of governance. Enhancing the safety and integrity of democratic systems and electoral processes will certainly be on the agenda in 2018 within the Asia Pacific and elsewhere.

Anti-social media

The growing impact of social media and the reference to cyber security has been one other big story in 2017. Social media was meant to be an incredible liberator, to democratise, and to bring recent transparency to politics and societies. In 2017, it has grow to be a platform for fake news, misinformation and propaganda.

Social media sites clearly played a task in displacing authoritarian governments throughout the Arab Spring uprisings. Few expected they’d be utilized by authoritarian governments in an incredibly effective strategy to sow and exploit divisions in democratic countries. The debate we want to have in 2018 is how we are able to deter the manipulation of social media, prevent the spread of pretend news and encourage the likes of Facebook and Twitter to watch and police their very own networks.

If we don’t trust what we see on these sites, they won’t be commercially successful, and so they won’t function platforms to boost international peace and security. Social media sites must not grow to be co-opted or corrupted. Facebook mustn’t be allowed to grow to be Fakebook.

Holding data to ransom

The spread of the Wannacry virus was the third big cyber security story of 2017. Wannacry locked down computers and demanded a ransom (in bitcoin) for the electronic key that will release the information. The virus spread in a very global attack to an estimated 300,000 computers in 150 countries. It led to losses within the region of 4 billion dollars – a small fraction of the worldwide cyber crime market, which is projected to grow to $6 trillion by 2021. In the Asia Pacific region, cyber crime is growing by 45% annually.

Wannacry was a crucial event since it pointed not only to the expansion in cyber crime but in addition the hazards inherent in the event and proliferation of offensive cyber security capabilities. The exploit to windows XP systems that was used to spread the virus had been stockpiled by the US National Security Agency (NSA). It ended up being released on the web after which used to generate revenue.

A fundamental challenge in 2018 is to constrain the usage of offensive cyber capabilities and to reign in the expansion of the cyber-crime market through enhanced cooperation. This will probably be no small task, but there have been some positive developments.

According to US network security firm FireEye, the recent US-China agreement on business cyber espionage has led to an estimated 90% reduction in data breaches within the US emanating from China. Cyber cooperation is feasible and might result in bilateral and global goods.

Death of cyber norms?

The final big development, or fairly lack of development, has been on the UN. The Government Group of Experts (GGE) process, established in 2004 to strengthen the safety of world information and telecommunications systems, failed to succeed in a consensus on its latest report on the status of international laws and norms in cyberspace. The important problem has been that there isn’t any definite agreement on the applicability of existing international law to cyber security. This includes issues resembling when states is perhaps held accountable for cyber attacks emanating from their territory, or their right to the usage of countermeasures in cyber self-defence.

Some analysts have proclaimed this to be “the top of cyber norms”. This betrays a pessimism about UN level governance of the web that’s deeply steeped in overly state-centric views of security and a reluctance to cede any sovereignty to international organisations.

It is true that norms won’t be built from the highest down. But the UN does and will have a crucial role to play in cyber security as we move into 2018, not least due to its universality and global reach.

The NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE) in Tallinn, Estonia recently launched the Tallinn Manual 2.0, which examines the applicability of international law to cyber attacks that fall below the usage of force and occur outside of armed conflict.

These commendable efforts could move forward hand in hand with efforts to construct consensus on recent laws that more accurately capture the complexity of recent information and communications technology. In February 2017, Brad Smith, the pinnacle of Microsoft, proposed a digital Geneva Convention that will outlaw cyber attacks on civilian infrastructure.

In all this we must recognise that cyber security just isn’t a binary process. It just isn’t about “ones and zeros”, but fairly a few complex spectrum of activity that needs multi-level, multi-stakeholder responses that include international organisations. This is a cyber reality that we must always all keep in mind once we try to seek out solutions to cyber security issues in 2018.

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