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Shrinking Cyber-Universe

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In 2019, the book «India’s strategic options in a changing cyberspace» written by Cherian Samuel and Munich Charma was published. (New Delhi, Pentagon Press LLP in association with Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, 2019). In their work, the authors examine the general concept of cyberspace, while extrapolating it to India’s cyberspace dimension.

Cybersecurity problems are tightly included in the new agenda of international relations, which stresses the importance of their comprehensive study, now more relevant than ever. The work raises several issues that appear to be important for a modern understanding of cyberspace. Among the issues raised, we find cyber deterrence, the regulatory framework for cyberspace, the protection of the critical state infrastructure, Active Cyber Defense knowledge, and its attendant legal and ethical issues.

To begin with, the authors illustrate the reasons why the decided to start the book. Firstly, due to the constant change in threats and actors, cyber policy is said to be a moving target. The second problematic lies on the fact that the development of adequate measures becomes difficult for governments, especially international organizations.

The first problem identified by the authors refers to an instrumental nature — namely a lack of technical knowledge, a sophisticated conceptual framework. Trying to analyze the meaning of cyberspace, cybersecurity, cyber warfare, cyber weapons, deterrence in cyberspace, and critical information infrastructure, the authors conclude that each actor understands them in their own way. For example, the concept of “Cybersecurity” is developed in the West. It focuses mainly on the technical side of security. Conversely, the “International Information Security” concept is widespread in China and the CIS and focuses on its political and instrumental use, as well as the compromise “Security in the field of information and security, communication technologies and their use.”

The second problem refers to the lack of access to source data, the presence of conflicting versions of events. According to the authors, the problem would arise due to the lack of the ability to formulate a full-fledged unambiguous conclusion based on the available data. Cyberspace often becomes part of military strategies and doctrines of states. The authors tried to provide the reader with a complete picture of the different countries’ and organizations’ versions, having worked out each of them qualitatively.

The third problem relates to the high politicization of the topic. In the beginning, cyberspace was characterized as common property; its regulation was possible within the framework of international institutions and forums established over the years. Among the more prominent ones we list the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts (UNGGE) and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Examples of NGOs’ participation and think tanks are the Global Conference on Cyber Space (GCCS), the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace, and the World Internet Conference.

Over time, however, the tendency to diversify measures to regulate cyberspace has emerged. Only the general trend developed by the Western community remained — to keep cyberspace “open, secure, stable and free.” By declaring Western centricity, the authors refer to the fact that the development and implementation of the latest infrastructure took place from the global West to the East. If the issue of development and implementation has long ceased to be exclusively Western and acquired the outlines of a network structure, now the politicization of the topic lies in ideologically loaded terms. This is expressed in well-established clichés according to which the best hackers who can influence the election results are Russians or Chinese.

Issue number four refers to the fact that the topic of cyberspace is very voluminous. It includes the aspect of global governance in cyberspace, the level of militarization, the legal obligations of each of the parties, and the right to self-defense of the country and the individual. In their book, authors focused on specific areas of cyberspace, like for instance the concept of Active Cyber Defense. After analyzing the approaches of different countries, the authors conclude that the strategy is moving from offensive to defensive, a tendency that intensified after the World War II. Nation-states trying to protect their interests, undertake actions that need to be declared. Any response thereafter is made in accordance with calculations of political benefit, economic leverage, or purely self-defense. In this regard, the authors compared the development of concepts for nuclear weapons and cyber weapons. The development of atomic weapons after the Second World War and artificial intelligence and quantum calculus today depends entirely on the development of technology. Despite some similarities, cyberspace appear to be more complicated due to the inability to establish the source of the attack and the consequences of asymmetrical response.

And, finally, the fifth identified problem is the lack of a clear international legal framework. The author highlights the concepts of different states, from the USA to China and from Russia to the UK. There are two block approaches to the regulation of cyberspace. The first — tentatively referred to as “Western” — assume that in general, the existing body of international law, humanitarian law in particular, already covers cyberspace. It can be applied to issues related to emerging information technology. This approach was most clearly developed in the Tallinn Guidelines for Cyber Warfare and Cyber Operations (developed in two points by the NATO Joint Center for Excellence in Cyber Defense).

The second approach, the Russian one, suggests that although relevant international law applies to cyberspace, the formation of an additional base of legally binding documents is necessary. The Russian approach focuses more on how to prevent information wars, while the Tallinn leadership regulates the rules of war itself. Therefore, the domestic approach does not accept the method of the North Atlantic Alliance, perceiving it as already de facto legalizing cyber warfare. The key document refers to the 2011 Convention on International Information Security, which aims to prevent the misuse of information and communication technologies for political, military, terrorist, and criminal purposes.

Furthermore, the authors devote special attention to a very crucial document, now taken as a kind of consensus between the two designated approaches — the Report of the UN Group of Government Experts (UN GGE) 2015, stating that:

  • States will not attack each other’s critical infrastructure
  • they will no longer insert malicious “bookmarks” into their IT products.
  • refrain from indiscriminately accusing each other of cyber attacks.
  • make efforts in the fight against hackers carrying out computer sabotage from or through their territory.

Per contra, cyber-norms have already dramatically influenced social norms. The role of « norm entrepreneurs » consists in persuasion through the organizational platform.

Going forward, while many States still perceive the evolving norms with a sense of unity, the focus seems to have shifted from negotiations norms among adversaries to shaping patterns with like-minded countries, setting the norm of competition in cyberspace.

At the level of national states, the confidentiality issue arises due to mass surveillance, that is when a democratic state enters a polemic with civil society over the legality of access to encrypted data (for example, a terrorist). Beyond the identity, attribution also extends to figuring out the motivations and intentions of the attacker, and whether he/she is acting alone or on behalf of a state or an entity. The vulnerability of critical infrastructure further exacerbates the situation. Cyberattacks are the equivalent of natural disasters. And to eliminate these disasters and preventive responses, cyberspace offers unprecedented opportunities for public-private partnerships. This would ideally be achieved through more cooperation between government outsourcing their responsibility of being overarching security provider to private companies or acquiescing to private sector demands. Nevertheless, the approaches and laws for data protection have subjective applicability and relevance, like the requirements, digitization, and technology maturity vary across every nation-state.

In the ratio of information security and communication in cyberspace, the author calls encryption a possible key to solving the problem.

Having made cybersecurity one of the priority areas of action, India appears as a flagship cybersecurity country. Critical infrastructure is now much more dependent on cyberspace, and trade-offs can be detrimental. Higher confidence in attribution can justify punishment and strengthen deterrent capability by setting a precedence that threat actors, including nation-states, will have to pay as a response for any hostility. Cybersecurity, as a non-traditional security domain, would require a non-traditional approach to problem-solving and public-private partnerships. Something that, in this case, could help provide solutions to many problems.

If we trace the logic of the authors’ thoughts, we can see that the line moves from the level of international organizations to the individual level, which is of interest. Cyberspace, like nothing else, shows the entry into the world stage of new actors. These actors appear due to objective necessity. States are no longer the only guarantors of personal security. The network system of interaction of actors partly erases state borders. However, boundaries appear as soon as the actor crosses the established red line, the permitted boundary of actions. At the same time, for each actor, this red line remains individual. The combination of the tangible physical world of the infrastructural and virtual world remains too voluminous for operationalization. However, the apparent shrink of the cyber universe is observed.

Dr. Cherian Samuel is Research Fellow in the Strategic Technologies Centre at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. He has written on various cybersecurity issues, including critical infrastructure protection, cyber resilience, cybercrime, and internet governance. Munish Sharma is a Consultant in the Strategic Technologies Centre at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. His research interests include cybersecurity, critical information infrastructure protection, space security, and geopolitical aspects of emerging technologies.

From our partner RIAC

Science & Technology

What is a ‘vaccine passport’ and will you need one the next time you travel?

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An Arab-Israeli woman shows her COVID-19 card which shows she has been vaccinated against the virus. Mohamed Yassin

Is the idea of a vaccine passport entirely new?

The concept of a passport to allow for cross border travel is something that we’ve been working on with the Common Trust Network for many months. The focus has been first on diagnostics. That’s where we worked with an organization called “The Commons Project” to develop the “Common Trust Framework”. This is a set of registries of trusted data sources, a registry of labs accredited to run tests and a registry of up-to-date border crossing regulations.

The set of registries can be used to generate certificates of compliance to prevailing border-crossing regulations as defined by governments. There are different tools to generate the certificates, and the diversity of their authentication solutions and the way they protect data privacy is quite remarkable.

We at the Forum have no preference when it comes to who is running the certification algorithm, we simply want to promote a unique set of registries to avoid unnecessary replication efforts. This is where we support the Common Trust Framework. For instance, the Common Pass is one authentication solution – but there are others, for example developed by Abbott, AOK, SICPA (Certus), IBM and others.

How does the system work and how could it be applied to vaccines?

The Common Trust Network, supported by the Forum, is combining the set of registries that are going to enrol all participating labs. Separately from that, it provides an up-to-date database of all prevailing border entry rules (which fluctuate and differ from country to country).

Combining these two datasets provides a QR code that border entry authorities can trust. It doesn’t reveal any personal health data – it tells you about compliance of results versus border entry requirements for a particular country. So, if your border control rules say that you need to take a test of a certain nature within 72 hours prior to arrival, the tool will confirm whether the traveller has taken that corresponding test in a trusted laboratory, and the test was indeed performed less than three days prior to landing.

The purpose is to create a common good that many authentication providers can use and to provide anyone, in a very agnostic fashion, with access to those registries.

What is the WHO’s role?

There is currently an effort at the WHO to create standards that would process data on the types of vaccinations, how these are channelled into health and healthcare systems registries, the use cases – beyond the management of vaccination campaigns – include border control but also possibly in the future access to stadia or large events. By establishing in a truly ethical fashion harmonized standards, we can avoid a scenario whereby you create two classes of citizens – those who have been vaccinated and those who have not.

So rather than building a set of rules that would be left to the interpretation of member states or private-sector operators like cruises, airlines or conveners of gatherings, we support the WHO’s effort to create a standard for member states for requesting vaccinations and how it would permit the various kinds of use cases.

It is important that we rely on the normative body (the WHO) to create the vaccine credential requirements. The Forum is involved in the WHO taskforce to reflect on those standards and think about how they would be used. The WHO’s goal is to deploy standards and recommendations by mid-March 2021, and the hope is that they will be more harmonized between member states than they have been to date in the field of diagnostics.

What about the private sector and separate initiatives?

When registry frameworks are being developed for authentication tools providers, they should at a minimum feed as experiments into the standardization efforts being driven by WHO, knowing that the final guidance from the only normative body with an official UN mandate may in turn force those providers to revise their own frameworks. We certainly support this type of interaction, as public- and private-sector collaboration is key to overcoming the global challenge posed by COVID-19.

What more needs to be done to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines?

As the WHO has warned, vaccine nationalism – or a hoarding and “me-first” approach to vaccine deployment – risks leaving “the world’s poorest and most vulnerable at risk.”

COVAX, supported by the World Economic Forum, is coordinated by the World Health Organization in partnership with GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance; CEPI, the Centre for Epidemics Preparedness Innovations and others. So far, 190 economies have signed up.

The Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-Accelerator) is another partnership, with universal access and equity at its core, that has been successfully promoting global collaboration to accelerate the development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines. The World Economic Forum is a member of the ACT-Accelerator’s Facilitation Council (governing body).

World Economic Forum

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Iran among five pioneers of nanotechnology

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Prioritizing nanotechnology in Iran has led to this country’s steady placement among the five pioneers of the nanotechnology field in recent years, and approximately 20 percent of all articles provided by Iranian researchers in 2020 are relative to this area of technology.

Iran has been introduced as the 4th leading country in the world in the field of nanotechnology, publishing 11,546 scientific articles in 2020.

The country held a 6 percent share of the world’s total nanotechnology articles, according to StatNano’s monthly evaluation accomplished in WoS databases.

There are 227 companies in Iran registered in the WoS databases, manufacturing 419 products, mainly in the fields of construction, textile, medicine, home appliances, automotive, and food.

According to the data, 31 Iranian universities and research centers published more than 50 nano-articles in the last year. 

In line with China’s trend in the past few years, this country is placed in the first stage with 78,000 nano-articles (more than 40 percent of all nano-articles in 2020), and the U.S. is at the next stage with 24,425 papers. These countries have published nearly half of the whole world’s nano-articles.

In the following, India with 9 percent, Iran with 6 percent, and South Korea and Germany with 5 percent are the other head publishers, respectively.

Almost 9 percent of the whole scientific publications of 2020, indexed in the Web of Science database, have been relevant to nanotechnology.

There have been 191,304 nano-articles indexed in WoS that had to have a 9 percent growth compared to last year. The mentioned articles are 8.8 percent of the whole produced papers in 2020.

Iran ranked 43rd among the 100 most vibrant clusters of science and technology (S&T) worldwide for the third consecutive year, according to the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2020 report.

The country experienced a three-level improvement compared to 2019.

Iran’s share of the world’s top scientific articles is 3 percent, Gholam Hossein Rahimi She’erbaf, the deputy science minister, has announced.

The country’s share in the whole publications worldwide is 2 percent, he noted, highlighting, for the first three consecutive years, Iran has been ranked first in terms of quantity and quality of articles among Islamic countries.

Sourena Sattari, vice president for science and technology has said that Iran is playing the leading role in the region in the fields of fintech, ICT, stem cell, aerospace, and is unrivaled in artificial intelligence.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Free And Equal Internet Access As A Human Right

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Having internet access in a free and equal way is very important in contemporary world. Today, there are more than 4 billion people who are using internet all around the world. Internet has become a very important medium by which the right to freedom of speech and the right to reach information can be exercised. Internet has a central tool in commerce, education and culture.

Providing solutions to develop effective policies for both internet safety and equal Internet access must be the first priority of governments. The Internet offers individuals power to seek and impart information thus states and organizations like UN have important roles in promoting and protecting Internet safety. States and international organizations play a key role to ensure free and equal Internet access.

The concept of “network neutrality is significant while analyzing equal access to Internet and state policies regulating it. Network Neutrality (NN) can be defined as the rule meaning all electronic communications and platforms should be exercised in a non-discriminatory way regardless of their type, content or origin. The importance of NN has been evident in COVID-19 pandemic when millions of students in underdeveloped regions got victimized due to the lack of access to online education.

 Article 19/2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights notes the following:

“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

Internet access and network neutrality directly affect human rights. The lack of NN undermines human rights and causes basic human right violations like violating freedom of speech and freedom to reach information. There must be effective policies to pursue NN. Both nation-states and international organizations have important roles in making Internet free, safe and equally reachable for the people worldwide. States should take steps for promoting equal opportunities, including gender equality, in the design and implementation of information and technology. The governments should create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling online environment in accordance with human rights.

It is known that, the whole world has a reliance on internet that makes it easy to fullfill basic civil tasks but this is also threatened by increasing personal and societal cyber security threats. In this regard, states must fulfill their commitment to develop effective policies to attain universal access to the Internet in a safe way.

 As final remarks, it can be said that, Internet access should be free and equal for everyone. Creating effective tools to attain universal access to the Internet cannot be done only by states themselves. Actors like UN and EU have a major role in this process as well.

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