The 3 edition of CYBERSEC Brussels Leaders' Foresight conference, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, took place online on 24 and 25 March. With a timely theme “Securing the European Digital DNA”, the virtual conference succeeded in gathering top policy and business leaders from the EU, NATO, national ministries, cybersecurity organisations, and the global and European tech industry as well as experts and members of civil society. More than 30 speakers addressed the key challenges of the rapidly spreading “digitisation of everything”. The discussions included growing cyber challenges for administration, economy and defence in uncertain times of a pandemic.
The Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences for the fast forwarding digital transformation and the increasing number of cyberthreats and disinformation campaigns were, as expected, the topic of the day. Experts especially highlighted the need to safeguard the values in cyberspace. Robert L. Strayer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Cyber and International Communications and Information Policy at the U.S. Department of State, pointed out that we should maintain free, open cyberspace that complies with our democratic values and also protect human rights and civil liberties.
Izabela Albrycht, Chair of the Kosciuszko Institute and President of the CYBERSEC Forum, asked to recapitulate the main takeaway points of the debatesaid that the need to counter life threats should be balanced with the right to keep our privacy in a long run. Human rights, whether offline and online, should be the same.
Another issue highlighted by the conference participants was a growing role of cooperation which should involve all cybersecurity actors at all levels. Antonio Missiroli, NATO’s Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges, pointed out the importance of cooperation on a global scale. “What the EU does is regulation and it has powerful impact on the civilian domain. What NATO does is standardization and it has powerful impact on the military domain. I think these two tasks are potentially complementary”. Polish Minister of Digital Affairs Marek Zagórski underlined the need of forming a technological alliance across the EU and NATO.
While Minister Zagórski called for more cybersecurity funding in the EU’s new multilateral financial framework, the European Commission announced that they expect to invest 2 billion euro in data infrastructure in the coming years. This is important news, especially because many countries in the transatlantic sphere still do not have a resilient cybersecurity infrastructure, efficient and agile institutions and emergency plans prepared. Many experts warned that during the pandemic we are more vulnerable to malicious activities and cyberattacks than ever and we need to invest more resources, money and people to strengthen our cybersecurity posture. It not only applies to institutions and companies which sent their staff to work from home, but also to the daily lives of citizens who, in recent times, have been forced to move most of their activities to the online world. That is why public awareness and digital education remain important, too. “Digital hygiene can only be achieved through behaviour change. (…) just like in the public health, digital awareness and digital hygiene will get us through the crisis”, said Rafał Rohozinski, CEO, SecDev Group and member of the CYBERSEC Programme Committee.
Another emerging cyberthreat is insufficient capacity to meet bandwidth demand. In times of crisis, “immediate steps need to be taken: when national Internet capacity is at risk, the government needs to make sure that (…) the Internet at the very minimum simply stays on”, added Rohozinski.
A few weeks ago, the European Commission unveiled its strategy for a digital transformation of Europe that has an ambition to work for all. But even though digital and technological aspects are very high on the agendas of the new European Commission and the European Parliament, with several policy proposals on the table, experts agreed that the coronavirus outbreak is expected to significantly accelerate the digital transformation. In such circumstances, the security dimension of this rapid transition should receive particular attention of decision-makers and tech actors, they underlined.
“The CYBERSEC Community is deeply worried about the possible trajectory of expected cyberthreats. We all should be aware that among the indirect consequences of the pandemic we may find our digital infrastructure being targeted while our attention is focused elsewhere. The same is with the spread of disinformation – the so-called infodemic. That is why we urge all digital actors today to strengthen cooperation and speed up the adaptation of all necessary measures to secure the European digital DNA,” highlighted Izabela Albrycht.
Another important comment about the near future came from an MEP and a former minister of foreign affairs of Estonia, Marina Kaljurand, who set an ambitious goal for the UN’s 75th anniversary. She said that the UN should take the “Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace” cooperation framework more seriously and encourage more countries to join. She also made a point that in 2020 countries should recognise, at least in a form of a political statement, that international law applies to cyberspace.
“The current crisis is a wake-up call for decision-makers. (…) Digital public safety needs to become an organic component of all digital policies,” summed up Rohozinski. This is how CYBERSEC understands the process of securing the world's digital DNA.