Cyber threats are becoming more sophisticated with the blending of once-distinct types of attack into more damaging forms. These asymmetrical threats are seen as one of the top issues in the global policy and national security agendas, and an increasingly challenging policy area for governments. This is perhaps unsurprising as cyber space was never built with security in mind.
Global reliance on information and communications technologies (ICT) and cyber space for the conduct of both business and pleasure has meant that we cannot simply shut down access to ICT or cyber space to address these threats. This is true not only for more open and liberal societies, like Australia or the United States. Even authoritarian nations, such as China, can no longer consider shutting down the internet and other communication channels as a means of dealing with threat. Instead, authorities must find various strategies to build the national resilience needed to maintain an open yet secure cyber space, and to strike the most appropriate balance between the protection of citizens, national security interests and democratic freedoms.
Cyber threats and windows of vulnerability evolve over time, and therefore threat assessments should not be static. Understanding the threat landscape is crucial to a nation’s security agenda, and as explained in a U.S. Department of Defense 2011 policy report to Congress: “The United States needs to understand other nations’ cyber capabilities in order to defend against them and to improve our ability to attribute any cyber attacks that may occur.”
Technical solutions can provide effective protection against many of the existing threats, but these alone cannot provide a comprehensive solution. Different players in the digital economy are best placed to provide unique, but complementing roles in mitigating the cyber threats faced by consumers, businesses and governments.
Many sectors, particularly critical infrastructure sectors, are privately owned. Instituting an effective coordination between the public and private sectors and the research community will play a pivotal role in mitigating threats. For example, secure and trusted information-sharing mechanisms will facilitate the dissemination of timely and actionable alerts, classified or sensitive information and research findings. This would enable all parties involved to produce threat assessments based on fresh and accurate information, facilitate real-time collaboration to stop malicious cyber incidents in progress, and investigate cross-border activities.
In the competitive and fast-developing landscape of cyber threats, it is essential to canvass global developments in the criminal, political, regulatory and business environments which may give rise to malicious activities, as many of the risks are based in global features of the criminal economy and the global threat landscape. This would allow us to provide current and relevant policy and practice evidence with much broader international, inter-sector and interdisciplinary perspectives. In turn, this would inform governments’ policy and operational responses to cope with the emerging cyber threat landscape in a climate of enduring fiscal restraint. In addition, integrating perspectives and approaches from different sectors, research disciplines and countries would allow governments and the general society to identify existing weaknesses in regulatory behavior, ways to design measures to address them more effectively, and ensure that the responses are harmonized with international best practices.
Raymond Choo is a senior lecturer at the University of South Australia.