In present day society major powers consider the cyber domain a fundamental element of national security. As highlighted by Paolo Mauri in this column ,cyber-warfare is being invested with increasing importance within the context of defence strategies by major global powers. In this article we will analyse national security and interests, and their connection to the cyber domain in a broader context, with a focus also on the economic and social implications of an efficient management of new technological paradigms.
Cyber-warfare is a domain of action which both the United States and NATO have recognized as strategic and cybersecurity is an essential paradigm strongly correlated with the efficiency of a country’s social, economic, and political systems. In the era of globalization where political rivalry and conflict are present in every sphere, even covertly, control of the paradigms through which the protection of data needed to make vital choices travel is a definite competitive advantage.
A “security culture” for the economy
The issues of economic war and economic intelligence are acquiring increasing importance. Within the framework of the China-US geopolitical battle for example, we are witnessing an open conflict on communications security protocols regarding future networks, 5G, undersea cables and the connection between “national champions” of technology and intelligence agencies. And cybersecurity overlaps strongly with all these different realms. As Carlo Jean and Paolo Savona note in their essay “Intelligence economica”, “the cycle of information increasingly represents the basis for choice in development”, both political and economic. New technologies already in circulation are bringing about a rise in opportunities and threats connected with the management of this cycle. The paradigms of the near future, from Artificial Intelligence (AI) to quantum computing, will increase the quantity, privacy and value of information and data processed in the system, making their protection and safeguard an increasingly crucial factor.
The cyber domain, due to its intrinsic vulnerability, its pervasiveness, and the impunity it allows, is exposed to threats from a number of directions: cybersecurity presents itself as a non negotiable choice for any entity wanting to play a central role in todays’ society. The current pandemic has highlighted the importance of cybersecurity in a civilian context as the Italian Institute for Political International Studies (ISPI) pointed out: in this phase we realize that our societies increasingly depend on “the cyber realm for our economic resilience (smart working, e-commerce, etc) as well as social resilience (social networks, online teaching etc)”. Very often the solutions adopted by companies and bodies when faced with the emergency phase did not have an elaborate enough complexity or a strong resistance to possible attacks aiming to violate databases, information systems, bank accounts and so on.
“Any interruption in the service”, therefore, “costs, us personally and our society as a whole, much more (as plastically demonstrated by the cyber attacks suffered by hospitals) and, conversely, cyber attacks are becoming potentially more advantageous for those carrying them out.” In Italy, there is the need for a far-reaching exhaustive security culture also in the fields of economic and production activities, and it must entail the strengthening of the cybersecurity perimeter and an awareness of the hybrid threats of the present era to companies, both within the operational field and outside it. InsideOver contacted Gabriele Suffia, a researcher in cyber dynamics and an expert on the topic of legal informatics at the University of Milan, who agrees with us and explains: “The subject of the protection of Italian companies” from the cybersecurity point of view “ is expressed on the one hand through the divulgation of a security culture at a company level”, increasing an awareness for the need for safe products, while on the other through the “safeguard from spying by foreign entities such as the United States, China and Russia.” Everybody spies everybody, adds Suffia, and “to be the first to publish a patent and know company secrets is paramount.”
Responsiveness on the subject of cyber threats is a “thermometer” of a system’s stability from an economic security point of view. Not surprisingly very often the subject, which in Italy is treated by such institutions as COPASIR when it comes to the protection of the economy in the name of national security, includes this aspect as well as inevitably the identification of the risk of foreign takeovers of economically successful companies. If there are no certainties on the former, it is not possible to perceive rising problems in the latter.
Cybersecurity and sharp power
In the western world, as well as the economy, cybersecurity has been associated with the threat from another source, that of information. In the United States the National Endowment for Democracy has coined the term “sharp power” to indicate the hybrid threat of media and digital disinformation carried out by countries such as China, Russia and Iran through the use of online platforms, social media and offensive IT operations.
In Italy the subject has been discussed in the essay “L’era dello sharp power,” (The era of sharp power) by the founder of the publication “Formiche” Paolo Messa. “The cyber revolution”, writes Francesco Bechis in the introduction, “has radically changed the rules of the game, opening a new front where it is difficult to distinguish lone wolves from a country’s military units. Spies in a suit and tie carrying a brief case have given way to the much more efficient cyber espionage. The influential power of television has been replaced by the pervasive activity of trolls on the internet and social media.” A globalized version of the Soviet style disinformacija: and a range of action in which cybersecurity can play an important role in identifying real or alleged attempts of manipulation from the outside. With the full awareness that everyone plays to attack in a rival territory: Countries such as China and Russia merely apply the lessons learnt studying the use of social networks such as Twitter in order to boost political messages during delicate historical periods such as the Arab spring with the West’s blessing.
Ultimately, cybersecurity and the focus on its development entail a definite “militarization” of the civilian perimeter of national security, given that strengthening it means acknowledging the hybrid and insidious nature of many threats. An intelligence agency can launch an attack on a private company’s database, a criminal group can attempt action against an institution or government body, financial corporations can try to steal information from each other. The boundaries of the cyber domain are blurred, it is a competition with all against everybody. And in a globalized world stimulating rather than appeasing rivalry between systems and Countries it is vital to develop its paradigms. In order not to succumb in the arena. In order not to be excluded from the cycle of information which gives lifeblood to the word’s economies.