Economic cyber espionage a real threat now: Aaron Shull

Published : October 18, 2019 18:30 IST

Aaron Shull, managing director, Centre for International Governance Innovation, a Canada-based think tank. Photo: COURTESY cigionline.org

The responses of governments to cybersecurity issues are constrained by multiple systemic factors in a world that increasingly sees no distinction between national security, economic prosperity and technological innovation, says Aaron Shull, managing director, Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), a Canada-based think tank.

Most governments are not designed to deal with these challenges because governments are structured on bureaucratic silos and cyber issues cuts across silos. Short tenures of both bureaucrats and governments stood in the way of finding solutions to “generational issues” which “require long term strategic thinking,” he said. “We are dealing with short-term electoral mandates on very, very complicated issues” at a time when the world economy has transformed completely, and its value is now overwhelmingly dominated by technology companies whose assets are in intangible intellectual properties.

He was speaking on “resolving conflicts in cyber space”, at the Synergia Conclave – 2019. The conclave, on the theme “The future of security: beyond the curve”, has been organised by the Bangalore-based Synergia Foundation.

The operational environment in cyber space was deeply contested and state and non-state actors were increasingly pursuing their agendas to achieve their strategic or military objectives, he said. Foreign adversaries could operate in the grey zone in cyberspace because international law was inadequate. States could use this lacuna to undertake aggressive cyber activities knowing that the current governance structures were inadequate. “Trying to apply existing international law is very problematic,” he said and added that most countries were building their cyber offensive capabilities “right now”.

There are significant acts of economic cyber espionage going on across the world with the aim of targeting a nation’s long-term economic prosperity. The espionage has been helped by the tools available to the modern disrupter –artificial intelligence, quantum technology, 5G and so on. “As a consequence of this, a country’s economic prosperity is being eroded at the hands of an adversary…. There is also a breakdown of trust between states and this is tremendously destabilising,” he said.

Richard Wilcox, senior adviser, Centre for Human Dialogues, Geneva, described cyber attacks as the “weapons of first resort”. The widespread nature of these attacks, he said, meant that in the near term constantly shoring up defences should be a priority.

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