The United States, which recorded its ten-millionth case of coronavirus-19 (or covid-19) on November 6th, is currently on an upward trajectory of daily new cases of coronavirus-19 (or Covid-19), and reached an all-time-record high of 132,540 new cases on November 6th. Donald Trump’s conspicuous leadership-failure on this might have cost him the 2020 re-election victory he had hoped for, but its implications extend far beyond merely that. Of course, these are global implications.
Basically, coronavirus-19 is increasingly making clear, to the world, that libertarianism (as it’s called in the United States) or neo-liberalism (as it’s called in Europe) is a false model for running a country, and that, in order to maximize the happiness or satisfaction of a given nation’s people (or, in other words, to serve them in the most effective way), strong economic numbers are less important than maintaining and improving the health and well-being — the safety — of the nation’s public. Without doing this, a nation’s leadership is poor, even if the nation is a democracy, and even if its per-capita GDP is high. If the public live in fear, then the basis for happiness does not exist, no matter how wealthy they are, and no matter how free they are.
Here is how to get to the data that are the basis for this conclusion:
Wait till the main section, “Reported Cases and Deaths by Country, Territory, or Conveyance” finishes loading.
Then, click onto the column-heading “Tot Cases/1M pop” (total cases per million population).
The highest numbers of cases per million in countries larger than 10 million are (#5) Belgium at 40,338; (#6) Czechia at 35,956; (#17) U.S. at 29,784; (#18) Spain at 29,210; (#19) Peru at 27,522;(#20) Chile at 26,943; (#21) Argentina at 26,598; (#22) Brazil at 26,258; (#23) France at 24,514; and (#25) Netherlands at 22,772. All of them are countries in the U.S.-UK empire.
The lowest 10 countries, among nations larger than 10 million, are Tanzania at 8, Vietnam at 12, Cambodia at 17, Taiwan at 24, both Niger and Burundi at 50, Thailand at 55, China at 60, Yemen at 69, and Chad at 92. Only one of them — Taiwan — is yet in the U.S.-UK empire, though Thailand and Yemen formerly had been, and the U.S.-UK Governments are trying to get them back (and are trying to keep Taiwan there, though it is historically a part of China).
Tanzania ranked in Gallup’s — which is the most reliable — rankings of countries on corruption, as being dead last, #129 out of the 129 countries, the world’s most corrupt. It’s one of just two countries (the other being North Korea) that don’t report cases of coronavirus-19 to the WHO. So: that figure, of “8” per million, is totally unreliable. Vietnam ranked as one of the 17 least-corrupt of the 129 ranked nations, and so its low infection-rate for coronavirus is trustworthy. Cambodia, Taiwan, Niger, Yemen, and the U.S., all ranked as being about equally corrupt as one-another, all near the middle of the 129 nations surveyed. Thailand and Chad were among the 14 most-corrupt nations; and, so, their coronavirus infection-rates could be untrustworthy. China wasn’t rated by Gallup. (Perhaps Gallup didn’t want to find out what China’s corruption-score is. In 2019, Gallup polled in 144 countries on questions regarding the extent of “law and order” there; and, in this survey, China ranked as being the third-best. All other indications also place China at least in the top half of all nations, as being relatively non-corrupt. China’s count of 60 cases per million is trustworthy.)
Among large nations, others with rates that are less than 2% of the world’s highest, are: Burkina Faso 120, DRC 127, Mali 178, Benin 224, South Sudan 262, Somalia 264, Uganda 294, Nigeria 305, Malawi 308, Sudan 315, Syria 338, Angola 364, Rwanda (the world’s least-corrupt country) 398, Mozambique 424, South Korea 527, Zimbabwe 565, Sri Lanka 586, Madagascar 613, Cuba 634, Ivory Coast 782, Haiti 795, and Japan 822. Only Haiti, South Korea, and Japan, are in the U.S.-UK orbit, but each has significant resistance to remaining there, and could leave the U.S.-UK empire.
New Zealand is small, only 5 million population, but its covid-infection-rate is only 394 — less than 1% of the world’s highest. That’s by far the lowest for any “Western” nation; and, of course, it’s also within the U.S.-UK empire.
How can it be that a nation, Belgium, with a per-capita GDP of around $50,000 per year, or the U.S., with a per-capita GDP of around $63,000, can have covid-infection-rates that are over 2,400 times higher than Vietnam’s, where the per-capita GDP is around $2,600? The multiple as compared to Taiwan is over 1,000 times. As compared to China, it is over 500 times. As compared to South Korea, it is over 50 times. As compared to Japan, it is over 30 times. Why does Belgium have an infection-rate that is more than 30 times higher than Japan’s, more than 500 times higher than China’s, and more than 2,400 times higher than Vietnam’s?
There is something that is very important besides a nation’s economy. And that other extremely important thing is to maintain and improve the health and well-being — the safety — of the nation’s public. A nation’s economy has no clear relationship with a government’s success at minimizing the spread of a serious epidemic within its borders (as is now being reflected in these nation-by-nation figures). An epidemic does more than make people sick, and kill some; it also spreads fear amongst the currently uninfected; and, therefore, such an epidemic is both a health crisis and a public-health crisis. It not only affects people’s bodies; it affects their entire society.
This other factor — to maintain and improve the health and well-being, the safety, of the nation’s public — is actually more important than a nation’s economy. Health and safety are bigger determinants of a person’s happiness than the individual’s wealth is. And, yet, this factor is ignored in the Washington Consensus.
Furthermore, when an epidemic is increasing within a nation, that produces an economic depression in all economic sectors that depend upon people getting physically close to one-another, such as public transit, hotels, performing arts, and restaurants. Moreover, coronavirus-19 is massively destroying “mom-and-pop” retailers, while boosting the mega-corporate ones such as Walmart, and, especially, Amazon, and is therefore restructuring the economy of the affected nations. Bankruptcies are soaring because of small businesses losing money, as customers reduce their frequencies of patronizing brick-and-mortar businesses. As a result of this, wealth-inequalities are soaring, and the previously existing world — in which the vulnerability that a business will have, to being especially negatively impacted by an epidemic, was only a minor factor in determining the insurance-rates and interest-rates that it will be charged — is likely gone forever. Insuring, and investing in, a small business, will become even less attractive to invest in than it has previously been. The insurance-costs will rise for small businesses, but not for large businesses (which will increasingly be serving the customers that small businesses will be losing). Economic concentration will increase. And, so, success at keeping the infection-rate down is also a major component of a government’s success at retaining small businesses and economic diversity, and at keeping the economy’s production-rate up, and at preventing the mega-corporations from replacing even more small businesses and taking over everything. Maintaining full employment in the near term (by ignoring the virus) can then produce massive unemployment in the long term. The pressures that a government faces, to keep small businesses open, will — if the government yields to those current pressures — increase the spread of the virus, and thereby increase not only the death-rate, but the unemployment-rate, and thereby reduce economic output. So: not only is the public’s well-being and safety an additional factor in determining a government’s success, but it is the more basic factor, as compared to the Washington-Consensus-presumed only factor, which is per-capita GDP (current production). The public’s well-being and safety is actually the most crucial factor in determining a government’s success at serving its public, and it might even be the biggest factor, of all.
It is a factor that is increasingly being shown in the international data as being independent of how rich or poor a given nation is (i.e., how high its per-capita GDP is). The Washington Consensus (for neoliberalism) could thus soon be dead, killed by the coronavirus-19.
The numbers that are already in, might already be sufficient so that the Washington Consensus has, by now, been effectively proven to be a false assumption. A new consensus will likely emerge within a year. It will be closer to the truth, but the world today is still very far away from yet understanding — in any more detail than this — what the truth is about political matters and ideology. In political theory, at least, there is no actual science, as of yet. That social ‘science’, of “political ‘science’,” is fake: science is actually yet to start, in the field of political theory; and all that exists there, at present, is still only mythology, which fails to recognize cause and effect, and which is obsessed with short-term results. It is (and has been) the Washington Consensus — the system for maintaining the U.S.-UK-imposed international economic and political order (supposedly so as to enhance the world’s productivity). The coronavirus numbers are exposing the reality, which is that the Washington Consensus is founded on a socio-economic theory that is, to a significant extent, false. Political science is yet to be born — or, at least, scientific political theory is yet to be born — in the wake of this global pandemic.
Japan — the country with the world’s highest life-expectancies, and with one of the world’s lowest coronavirus-19 infection rates — is estimated to decline in 2020 4.5% in its GDP, and then to experience a 4.8% increase in it during 2021. South Korea, which has an even-lower infection-rate, is estimated to be experiencing only 0.5% decline in GDP this year, and is projected at 5.4% GDP growth in 2021. U.S. is estimated to be experiencing 5.6% decline in GDP this year, and an unusually large 6.8% growth in 2021. Belgium is estimated to be experiencing 3.4% decline this year, and an unusually large 6.5% growth in 2021. China — which has been doing even better than Japan and South Korea at controlling the virus — is estimated to be experiencing 1.85% increase in GDP this year, and an 8.24% increase next year, to be followed thereafter by a return to near its normal 6% growth-rate in 2022. Vietnam — which is doing even better than South Korea and Japan, and even than China, at limiting the virus — is estimated to be experiencing 3.4% GDP growth this year, and 12.8% growth in 2021. Might Vietnam turn out to be the world’s future economic dynamo?
Those estimates are by Statistica, using a standard economic model. A year from now, we’ll be far better able, than we now are, to judge how good, or bad, the standard economic models — and economic theory itself — actually are. Will the Washington Consensus be confirmed — or, perhaps, shattered?
The Nature of Islamist Violence in France
France faces a persistent jihadist threat, and all indications suggest the violence afflicting the country will continue. France has been targeted for upwards of three decades, but the frequency of attacks has increased quite dramatically over the past ten years or so. There are several reasons why it is distinctly fertile territory for jihadist activity and why militants have declared France an enemy and priority Western target. France is a European hub of jihadism and has been hit particularly hard in recent years. It has the largest Islamic population in Western Europe and, recognizing this, militant organizations devote time, effort, and resources to media production aimed at existing supporters and potentially receptive elements within French society. While only a small percentage of this varied demographic is involved with jihadist activity, individuals residing in France conduct most attacks. In other instances, militants travel to France and gain entry prior to committing violence. The country’s population profile is important to consider but does not explain why some are willing to kill and die for their cause on French soil.
Historically, much of the Islamist violence against France has been motivated by French interference in Muslim lands. This was true of the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) in the 1990s and is largely the case with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) today. Jihadists have consistently made this clear in their propaganda and martyrdom statements. In addition to this, militants have struck religious targets and there has been imported conflict related to external events.
The 2015 attack on Charlie Hebdo’s offices and recent series of blasphemy-motivated incidents represent a marked typological development for jihadism in France. In response to the public’s demand for action, French President Emmanuel Macron has announced measures to fight “Islamist separatism” and has been working with European and international partners on matters of border security. Macron’s statements and announced policies have evoked outrage from some within France and internationally. Jihadists are capitalizing upon this and propagandizing Macron’s strategy in a way that hardens the enemy distinction of France, framing it as a nation that is waging war against Muslims at home and abroad. This is a very potent narrative for inciting violence.
National Security Profile
Emmanuel Macron has been criticized for his strategy as well as his comments about Islam being “in crisis”. Macron’s remarks are particularly noteworthy given the composition of French society. Islam is the second largest religion in France and Pew Research Center estimates there are 5,720,000 Muslims living in the country, accounting for 8.8% of the total population. Other sources place this figure closer to 5 million. Macron is accused of over-generalizing and stigmatizing the nation’s Islamic population in response to the actions of a comparative few.
The veracity of Macron’s claims can be debated, and the efficacy of his plan is unknown at this time but there is significant public pressure on the government to address the momentum of militant violence. The attacks have spurred discussion about strengthening French border security and immigration policy. Macron has called for the “refoundation” of the Schengen area and has urged Europe to do more to prevent illegal immigration, citing threats posed by trafficking networks with terror links.
The global context saw tremendous geographical expansion and numerical growth in Islamist militancy over recent decades. These broader international trends have notably affected the European jihadist landscape and associated ideological currents have influenced some elements within France. France is as well a site of militant network formation and there is a degree of interplay between domestic and international dynamics.
In 2018, the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimated the number of “Sunni Islamic militants” worldwide to be around four times higher than on September 11, 2001. A study by the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) found that France was the Western nation most often attacked from January 2004 to December 2018, accounting for 27% of all incidents. The AIVD says the first jihadist attack on French soil during this period was in 2012 and since then, the country has experienced frequent violence. Additionally, the Program on Extremism estimated that France has been the target of 35% of all combined attacks conducted in Europe and North America since 2014.
Several other assessments have illuminated the scale of France’s security troubles. In 2017, European Union anti-terror chief Gilles de Kerchove warned there were 17,000 militant Islamists living in the country. Following the December 2018 Christmas market attack in Strasbourg, France 24 reported that approximately “26,000 people who are believed to pose a danger to France are currently categorised as fiché S,” and “roughly 10,000 of those are believed to be religious extremists who have been radicalised, some in fundamentalist mosques, some online, some in prison and others abroad.” Upwards of 2000 French nationals have reportedly joined the Islamic State and in 2016 the French government estimated that 1,400 prison inmates were “radicalized”.
From the Armed Islamic Group in the 1990s to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State today, France’s enemies have been forthright about what motivates them to conduct attacks. French intervention in Muslim lands has fueled decades of Islamist resentment. Jihadist leaders continually reiterate this in their messaging, as do attack perpetrators in their martyrdom statements and claims of responsibility.
France had various degrees of involvement in the Algerian Civil War, the Gulf War, the War in Afghanistan, the Libyan Civil War, and the conflict in Mali. France has deployed 5,100 military personnel to the Sahel and has around 1,000 more troops stationed in Iraq. It maintains a military presence in Mali, Chad, Niger, Ivory Coast, and Burkina Faso as part of Operation Barkhane. This is France’s largest operational military footprint in Africa since the 1950s. France has also played a highly visible and multifaceted role in fighting the Islamic State in the Middle East.
Jihadist propaganda frames the country as an aggressor, foreign occupier of Muslim lands, and a crusader state waging war on Islam. Following 9/11 and entry into the War in Afghanistan, France and other coalition nations were increasingly portrayed in this way. Al-Qaeda propagated similar narratives following the 2013 launch of Operation Serval in Mali.
The development of media campaigns specifically geared towards Western audiences has increased the reach and traction of jihadist narratives within these societies. Incorporating this approach into the overall military strategy against their enemies helped bring the war to the streets of Western cities. Al-Qaeda’s propaganda efforts in the 2000s and early 2010s had some success with incitement, but the Islamic State drastically increased the offensive tempo against the West in 2014. Although there were jihadist plots in the 2000s, militants did not have a great deal of operational success on French soil again until the turn of the decade. France notably refrained from the 2003 War in Iraq and seemingly avoided much of the violent backlash associated with it. The general growth of Islamist militancy since 9/11 is another contextual trend to consider.
The Islamic State demonstrated its capabilities through its sweeping military victories, caliphate, unprecedented propaganda infrastructure, and vast global reach. When the US-led coalition intervened against the organization in Iraq and Syria, IS harnessed its robust media apparatus to launch targeted campaigns against participating nations. The Islamic State’s top leadership declared France an enemy and the organization produced specialized French language video, audio, and online print materials. IS has also been very effective in its use of social media and messaging applications.
The Islamic State’s spokesman at the time, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, released a statement in September of 2014 that tracked with the evolving trends of jihadist violence in the West. Adnani was very explicit in his instructions, “If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be.” He provided simple tactical advice to streamline the attack process, “If you are not able to find an IED or a bullet, then single out the disbelieving American, Frenchman, or any of their allies. Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.”
There had been demonstrations against Salman Rushdie in the late 1980s and against the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad by Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten in 2005, but not lethal attacks of this nature over such things on French soil. The recent surge in these kinds of incidents and the animosity over Emmanuel Macron’s plan to fight “Islamist separatism” have added dimension to France’s jihadist threat. Militant propaganda has focused on blasphemous acts by French citizens and has framed Macron’s strategy as a direct attack on the country’s Muslim population.
There were several warning signs leading up to the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack. A 2010 issue of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) Inspire magazine featured a timeline of events related to depictions of the Prophet Muhammad from 2005 to 2010, which included explicit mention of Charlie Hebdo. Anwar al-Awlaki warned, “If you have the right to slander the Messenger of Allah, we have the right to defend him. If it is part of your freedom of speech to defame Muhammad it is part of our religion to fight you.” Awlaki wrote about “the hatred the West holds towards Islam and the Prophet of Islam”. He called for retaliation and claimed that “Defending the Messenger of Allah is a greater cause than fighting for Palestine, Afghanistan or Iraq; it is greater than fighting for the protection of Muslim life, honor or wealth.” Awlaki focused on Western insults towards the most sacredly held beliefs of many Muslims, sanctified anger over these offences, and gave the greenlight for reprisal.
A subsequent 2013 issue of AQAP’s Inspire included a section about the “French crusader intervention in Mali” and a wanted poster featuring individuals accused of insulting Islam. Charlie Hebdo’s Stéphane Charbonnier was among the designated figures. On January 7, 2015, brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi conducted a raid on Charlie Hebdo’s offices that killed 12 people, including Charbonnier. The shooters had trained in Yemen, identified with AQAP, and executed the attack in retaliation to the magazine’s depiction of the Prophet Muhammad.
Blasphemy-motivated violence has reemerged with intensity in recent weeks, sparked again by the republication of these cartoons. Events transpired rather quickly with the high-profile Charlie Hebdo trial, the stabbing near the magazine’s former offices, the announcement of Emmanuel Macron’s plan, the beheading of history teacher Samuel Paty, and the church attack in Nice. Leaders of Muslim nations have scorned Macron, anti-France protests have erupted across the Islamic world, consumer boycotts have been promoted against French products, and there was a stabbing and subsequent Islamic State-claimed bombing targeting French diplomatic personnel in Saudi Arabia. Jihadist organizations and their online supporters have been actively stoking hostilities, celebrating the attacks, and calling for more violence. They have focused on Macron as a figurehead for insults to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. The French government is accused of enabling and even encouraging blasphemy.
France is faced with a complex threat from independent actors as well as militants directed, guided, and inspired by jihadist organizations. France is in a precarious position and faces potential violence if a certain foreign policy decision is made, a citizen blasphemes, the state enacts a security measure, or an external event occurs in some foreign flashpoint. This reality informs the French desire to assert national sovereignty. France’s security environment is showing signs of deterioration and there is nothing to suggest the violence will subside anytime soon. It is clear the French people want meaningful action and time will reveal if Emmanuel Macron’s approach will have any real impact.
Europe’s Cyber Resilience
In today’s world, no organization or enterprise is completely safe from cyber-attacks or their possible consequences. In fact, one may even argue that the effects of Cyber Security incidents on our increasingly interconnected world have the potential to negatively affect every single individual on this planet. As a result, and aided by a progressively complex landscape of regulatory and legal requirements in this field and beyond, raising awareness of Cyber Security threats and, by extension, building Cyber Resilience, have developed from a traditionally rather technical matter into an increasingly important strategic topic for businesses, on the one hand, and into a critical diplomatic challenge for States, on the other hand.
The EU Network and Information Security Directive was the first piece of EU-wide Cyber Security legislation and aims to enhance Cyber Security across the EU. The national supervision of critical sectors, such as energy, transport, water, health, and critical digital service providers, including online market places, as well as the enhancement of national Cyber Security capabilities and facilitation of cross-border collaboration, are the key topics covered by the NIS Directive. Moreover, the NIS Directive is part of the EU Cyber Security Strategy, which states “achieving Cyber Resilience” as one of its five priorities. However, the fact that the NIS Directive was only adopted in 2016, with a deadline for national transposition by EU member States as recent as May 9, 2018, illustrates that Cyber Security and Cyber Resilience are relatively new topics in international collaborative efforts surrounding security and stability in Europe. One may argue that this recency inherently implies a certain lack of preparation for Cyber Security incidents; thus, vulnerability.
“The technology of today serves not only a Weberian predictability imperative – to further rationalise society. It makes society less safe and its individuals less free” – recently stated my former professor Anis H. Bajrektarevic discussing the EU cyber-related legislation.Hence, a preparation, in other words – strategic investment in preventative measures and resources, is considered an essential aspect of Cyber Security as well as critical to Cyber Resilience. While Cyber Security is primarily concerned with the protection of information technology and systems, Cyber Resilience aims to ensure the effective continuation of an organizations operations and to prevent demobilization of business- or organization-critical functions in the event of security incidents. To be more specific, it is “the ability to prepare for, respond to and recover from cyber attacks” and other security incidents, such as data breaches, that is commonly referred to as Cyber Resilience.
In this context, it has been argued that the creation of a resilience-conscious culture is a key element of successful Cyber Resilience strategies. Creating such a cyber resilient culture involves raising awareness of Cyber Security threats, such as phishing and malware, and communicating ways to minimize risks stemming from them to people outside of Cyber Security functions. The main goal here is to facilitate a cyber resilient mindset through awareness-building measures, leading to the question: If promoting awareness of Cyber Security threats ultimately enhances Cyber Resilience, how can we, first of all, assess the status quo of Europe’s Cyber Resilience and subsequently, monitor the progress and effectiveness of such awareness building measures, in order to better understand, compare and ultimately enhance the Cyber Resilience of individual States and Europe in its entirety?
This essay will argue that “a false sense of security” in the private sector is a warning sign regarding the Cyber Resilience of States, hence, a warning sign regarding the status quo of Europe’s Cyber Resilience. Moreover, it will argue that “a false sense of security” can serve as a valuable indicator for the effectiveness of, and increased need for Cyber Security awareness measures. This will be accomplished through the following approach:
Firstly, the essential need for and feasibility of active preparation for seemingly unlikely crisis situations, will be emphasized. To illustrate this point, the controversy surrounding the classification of the COVID-19 pandemic as “black swan event” will be discussed. Secondly, the discussion of several recent Cyber Security related incidents and their implications, will highlight that businesses and governments worldwide must, more than ever, and especially due to the C-19 related acceleration of digitalization, improve their Cyber Resilience. The main goal here will be to draw attention to the worldwide existing deficiencies regarding Cyber Resilience and, based on this, illustrate the need for and value of finding new ways to assess Cyber Resilience, but also key aspects of Cyber Resilience. Thirdly, current insights from the recently published study “Cyber Security in Austria” will be discussed and contrasted with the respective risk assessment from The Global Risks Report 2019 to illustrate apparent discrepancies in security related self-perception in the private sector versus the reality of the risk situation. It is important to note here that “a false sense of security” means feeling safe in an unsafe environment. Therefore, such discrepancies represent “a false sense of security”. As a final step, possible implications and limitations of the presented ideas will be discussed.
A black swan event is an unpredictable, highly improbable and rare event that has serious and potentially catastrophic consequences. One main characteristic of black swan events is the widespread insistence that their occurrence was obvious in hindsight; thus, should have been foreseen. In the recent past, this concept, which the Lebanese-American philosopher, professor and former Wall Street trader, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, developed and already described in 2007, has, in connection with the C-19 pandemic, again become a topic of conversation – not least because of social media, such as Twitter (#blackswan). While there seems to be general disagreement as to whether the ongoing C-19 pandemic constitutes a “real” black swan event, Taleb himself stated in an interview that the eventual outbreak of a global pandemic with all its consequences was, in fact, a predictable “white swan” event, arguing that companies, corporations and especially governments, had no excuse, not to be prepared.
Regardless of swan color, however, in connection with the aforementioned ability to prepare for cyber attacks, it can be argued that a particularly relevant consequence of the C-19 pandemic, in terms of Cyber Security and subsequently, security in Europe, has been the acceleration of digitalization throughout the world, affecting the public and private sector, as well as the private sphere of people’s homes. Exit restrictions and other social-distancing measures imposed by governments worldwide, in an effort to curb the spread of the virus, have caused the global demand for remote working technologies to skyrocket within a remarkably short period of time. For example, the video conferencing solution provider Zoom experienced, within just a few weeks, a surge from around 10 million daily active users at the end of December 2019, to over 200 million daily active users in March 2020. It was not long before data privacy and data security related problems with Zoom became apparent: “Zoom bombing” or video hijacking, which refers to the unwanted and disruptive intrusion of a person into a Zoom video meeting, a lack of end-to-end encryption and, in this regard, misleading information advertised on part of the provider, along with various IT security related vulnerabilities that allowed hackers, among other things, unauthorized remote access to end user’s Mac computers – including webcam and microphone access, Zoom’s deployment of in-app surveillance features, as well as questionable handling and alleged trade with the obtained user data were, already by April 2020, seen as a considerable cause for concern, leading security experts to describe Zoom as “a privacy disaster”, and “fundamentally corrupt”. Moreover, Arvind Narayanan, associate computer science professor at Princeton University, was quoted as saying: “Zoom is malware”. The most memorable piece of news concerning Zoom was, however, arguably about the British prime minister Boris Johnson accidentally posting sensitive information, including the Zoom meeting ID and the login names of several participants, when sharing a screenshot of his first-ever digital cabinet meeting via Twitter.
The example of Zoom illustrates how companies, organizations, governments and private individuals benefit to an unprecedented extent from the advantages of digitalization, especially in the context of the ongoing C-19 pandemic, but also beyond such global crisis situations, while at the same time being faced with the considerable challenges and security risks brought about by the new technologies of what is known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This Fourth Industrial Revolution, being “characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres”, is changing the ways we live, work and interact, resulting in significant risks to the privacy of natural persons, as well as to security and stability in general.
Several recently occurring or publicly emerging Cyber Security incidents underpin the scope of these risks: A cyber-attack on the British airline EasyJet, in the course of which personal data including email addresses and travel plans of 9 million EasyJet customers and additionally, credit card details of over 2,000 customers, were stolen, became known in May 2020. This once again demonstrates that companies of all kinds can at all times become targets and victims of cyber-attacks. Costly penalties for violations of the General Data Protection Regulation (EU) 2016/679 (GDPR), as well as claims for damages and lawsuits by those affected and, last but not least, the loss of reputation often caused by such security incidents, pose significant challenges for companies under any circumstances. These challenges can, however, easily become existence-threatening, especially in view of the C-19 induced crisis situation, in which particularly the aviation industry currently finds itself in, as recently highlighted, when Austrian Airlines received EUR 450 million in financial aid from the Austrian government.
On the one hand, the EasyJet security incident illustrates that Cyber Resilience has, in recent years, developed from a formerly predominantly technical matter into a business-critical strategic topic and, in today’s world, competitive advantage for companies, whereas on the other hand, the case of Austrian Airlines requiring millions of Euros of state aid to continue their operations, illustrates how crisis situations faced by private companies can and do affect States.
As a matter of fact, we live in a time where the vulnerability of critical infrastructure is a real concern among security specialists and States, as illustrated by the following example: A joint memo, sent out in May 2020 by German intelligence and security agencies, warned German operators of critical infrastructure against hacker attacks. The memo included a description of the hackers’ approach as well as information indicating long-standing compromises in corporate networks of companies operating in the energy, water and telecommunications sector, in other words, critical sectors covered by the EU Network and Information Security Directive 2016/1148 (NIS).
It is in light of security incidents like these, that the results of and contradictions arising from this year’s “Cyber Security isn Austria” study (KPMG, 2020), may be perceived as especially worrying: According to the study, 27% of 652 companies surveyed place great trust in their Cyber Security measures, while 58% “rather” trust their Cyber Security measures. At the same time, 57% of participating companies became victims of cyber attacks in the past 12 months, of which 74% where phishing attacks. It is important to note here, that, when it comes to the prevention of phishing attacks, security experts consider regularly training employees on security awareness, essential. In the context of such Cyber Security awareness measures, it seems especially interesting that the study highlighted the significance of employees in the detection of cyber attacks, as opposed to merely focusing on employees as a potential weakness: 79% of companies stated that they had become aware of a cyber attack through their own employees, while internal security systems ranked second (72%) as a means of detection. Awareness building measures must, therefore, remain a high priority for companies.
Furthermore, the study established that one third of companies believe it would take them 1 to 4 weeks to safely remove attackers from their systems, while a fourth of companies even believe it would merely take them between 2 and 6 days. These findings are in direct contradiction with the considerably longer and demonstrably increasing average “dwell time” (100 to 170 days) of attackers in corporate networks. Regarding Cyber Resilience, it is worth noting here, that although 69% of companies surveyed invest in awareness and security monitoring to protect themselves against cyber attacks, only 25% prepare for possible damage through cyber insurance coverage. Also, the study found that 82% of companies would like to see established a government agency dedicated exclusively to Cyber Security issues and 77% would like to be supported more by the State, while at the same time, 57% state that they do not trust the authorities when it comes to Cyber Security. Additionally, it was found that the primary expectation (64% of companies) companies have toward the State is the provision of information and EU-wide support as well as exchange between experts from the State and private sector, in order to learn from each other. Considering the companies’ expectations regarding the exchange of information between experts, it seems particularly striking that about 90% declined to comment on the effects that past Cyber Security incidents had in terms of damage caused to their reputation. Based on this finding, it was concluded that a trustful exchange of information must be encouraged and observed, that changes to the existing legal framework would help facilitate open communication on cybercrime.
All in all, it was concluded that Austrian companies mistrust others, but do not protect themselves sufficiently, that they demand cooperation, however, shy away from open communication and that they feel more secure than they are. In other words, “a false sense of security” in the Austrian private sector, emerged as a key finding.
It was already established earlier that “a false sense of security” means feeling safe in an unsafe environment. Therefore, it seems only logical to look in more detail at the threat environment, also known as risk environment, in which businesses in today’s world operate in. For the sake of coherence and comparability, the following section will, first of all, examine Austria’s situation before briefly considering the global risk environment:
The “Risks of Doing Business 2019” report (World Economic Forum) rates cyber-attacks as the most critical business risk in Austria (46.7%) and data fraud or theft as second critical (34.1%). Taking into account the previously discussed findings regarding levels of trust companies place in their security measures (27% trust “greatly”, 58% “rather” trust) and unrealistic company estimates of attacker “dwell time” in corporate networks, “a false sense of security” clearly reemerges. The top Risks of Doing Business 2019 on a global scale are fiscal crises (28.9%), closely followed by cyber attacks (28.2%) as the second critical risk and unemployment or underemployment (28.2%) as the third critical risk, while data fraud or theft ranks seventh (22.4%), firmly establishing technological risks among the most critical risks globally.
Overall, and especially against the background of the global risk environment and increasing interconnectedness of the public and private sector, “a false sense of security”, or to be more precise, “a false sense of Cyber Security” in the private sector must, therefore, be considered a significant threat for the security of private companies and, consequently, the security in Europe, a warning sign regarding the status quo of Europe’s Cyber Resilience and, one may argue, valuable instrument in assessing the effectiveness of Cyber Security awareness measures.
While the scope and purpose of this essay did not allow for an in-depth analysis of how “a false sense of security” may practically be translated into a quantifiable, clearly defined key performance or risk indicator, it may serve as a starting point in doing so. Also, it may rightfully be argued that any indicator of performance or risk must be evaluated in the context of already established key performance and risk indicators, as well as existing efforts, procedures and best practices in the field, in order to fully assess its value and usefulness. Again, the scope of this essay did not allow for an in-depth analysis in this regard. Nevertheless, it may prove useful as a starting point in doing so. Other limitations and challenges arising from the scope, purpose and choice of approach as well as ideas advanced in this essay, include the risk of bias when generalizing from Austria to Europe and the risk of response bias (demand bias) when utilizing survey questions to identify “a false sense of security” with the same participants.
Nevertheless, despite these limitations, it seems possible to derive the following conclusions from the analysis conducted in this essay: a) the security and stability in Europe depend on the ability of States to continuously improve and maintain their Cyber Resilience, b) Europe’s Cyber Resilience is closely tied to the Cyber Resilience of each States’ private sector and, as a result, the actors operating within them, c) improving cooperation and trust between the public and the private sector as well as between States is necessary to improve Europe’s Cyber Resilience and, d) an organization with the appropriate authority, financial and professional capacity as well as reach, such as, one may argue, the OSCE, must act as the initiator and governing body of projects aiming to utilize “a false sense of security” to assess Europe’s Cyber Resilience and existing security awareness measures.
All in all, one may conclude that in order to ensure and enhance security and stability in Europe in our increasingly interconnected world, especially in the face of rapid technological progress, new technologies and the recent acceleration of digitalization, an urgent need to continuously improve and monitor Europe’s Cyber Resilience exists. This will call for more and more cooperation between the public and private sector, as well as between States and will, consequently, likely even heighten the significance of international organizations, such as the OSCE, in initiating, financing, overseeing and supporting Cyber Resilience initiatives in Europe.
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Extortion, bio-warfare and terrorism: Extremists are exploiting the pandemic
Criminals and violent extremists are exploiting the pandemic to build their support networks, undermine trust in government and even weaponize the virus, according to a research report published on Wednesday by the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI).
“Terrorist, violent extremist and organized criminal groups are trying to take advantage of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic to expand their activities and jeopardize the efficacy and credibility of response measures by governments”, UNICRI Director Antonia Marie De Meo wrote in the introduction to the report, entitled “Stop the virus of disinformation”.
Social media incitement
“It is also alarming that some terrorist and violent extremist groups have attempted to misuse social media to incite potential terrorists to intentionally spread COVID-19 and to use it as an improvised form of a biological weapon”, Ms. De Meo wrote.
Social media could be used to “inspire terrorism”, motivating self-radicalized terrorists to perpetrate real attacks, the researchers found.
“There are cases in which right-wing extremist groups… explicitly asked their followers to spread the virus by coughing on their local minority or by attending to specific places where religious or racial minorities gather. Other groups…advocate to spread the coronavirus disease in countries with large populations or high levels of pollution”, the report said.
‘Inspired terrorism’ case
A notable case of “inspired terrorism” was that of Timothy Wilson, who plotted to detonate a bomb in a hospital caring for coronavirus patients in Kansas City. He died during a firefight with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation in March.
He had been active in at least two neo-Nazi channels on the social media platform Telegram, and his last online comment was an antisemitic message regarding the origin of COVID-19, the report said.
The researchers examined three groups of non-State actors: right-wing extremists; groups associated with the ISIL or Da’esh terror group and Al-Qaida; and organized crime groups.
They described how extremists, especially right-wing groups, used social media to spread conspiracy theories and disinformation about the virus, expanding their networks by exploiting algorithms that identify potentially sympathetic people who have liked and forwarded particular memes.
The conspiracy theories often melded different and contradictory stories, the report said, including “the identification of the 5G mobile phone signal as a vehicle to transmit the virus, or the false claim that the pandemic has been masterminded by Bill Gates to implant microchips into human beings, or the false idea that the virus is a hoax and does not exist”.
The economic crisis created by the pandemic was also giving criminal groups openings to take control of legitimate companies and shops that may be at risk of bankruptcy, citing the case of drug cartels trying to take over pharmacies in four Mexican states, and investigations into extortion in Italy.
The UNICRI researchers identified several instruments to debunk disinformation and misinformation, including data science tools, fact-checking apps and artificial intelligence, but warned that technology countermeasures alone cannot stop abuse of social media.
In a separate case of disinformation, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), has warned about fake information circulating on social media concerning the refugee situation in Ethiopia, such as reports that UN staff had been arrested in the Tigray region and had their vehicles confiscated.
“These are false. All of our personnel and vehicles in Tigray are accounted for. We urge those using social media to share information responsibly and from corroborated sources only”, the UN agency said.
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