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Cybersecurity a global problem, say analysts – but global response proves elusive

It’s a captivating sight -- and an alarming one, to those who understand its full import.

At Capitol Technology University’s Cyber Lab, a pair of supersized monitors displays real-time mapping of cyber attacks. Threads of light fan out across continents and arc over oceans. Massive bursts engulf the major urban hubs – these attract the largest volume of activity. The display mesmerizes first-time visitors, though to cybersecurity students who practice their skills here, it’s business as usual. They’ll tell you what everyone in the field knows, and keeps close to heart: hackers and cyber adversaries never sleep.

Besides demonstrating the high volume of attacks, the real-time display also highlights another key facet of cyberwarfare: its global nature. The internet crosses geographical and political boundaries; these pose no barrier to hackers, also. The transnational nature of cybercrime, many policymakers believe, calls for a transnational response – yet, so far, building a global consensus has proved hard to do, adding to dealing with the global challenges of cybersecurity.

“In a medium that does not map onto political borders, it is impossible to manage risks successfully from just one jurisdiction. In economic terms, cybercrime is already comparable in size to drug trafficking, and it is highly internationalized,” writes former NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana in a 2015 op-ed. “But we have yet to develop fully a global governance regime. Various initiatives have attempted to facilitate the international management of cyberspace, but none has had more than limited success.”

According to professor Rick Hansen, who teaches in the Cyber and Information Security program at Capitol Technology University and mentors the university’s Cyber Battle Team, the impasse isn’t surprising, nor entirely avoidable.

“There is often a need to balance cooperation and competition,” he points out. “Nations balance the desire to be secretive about their vulnerabilities and their ability to detect and thwart bad actors to better protect themselves against with the need to be a good neighbor, and the possibility that sharing may put them at risk.”

Even so, co-operation among law enforcement agencies is taking place and resulting in arrests, says Dr. William Butler, the program’s chair. “Interpol and the FBI have had notable successes in apprehending cybercriminals,” Butler says. “These arrests are the result of unprecedented cooperation between partner nations that understand that cybercrime knows no borders. We as cyber defenders and law enforcement must also operate in a borderless manner with the proper treaties in place.”

The cybercrime challenge is best tackled by enforcing the rule of law, rather than by sealing off parts of the internet, according to Butler. “The most effective deterrent to cybercrime is not a bigger firewall but putting cybercriminals on notice that they can be found, apprehended, tried and jailed.

Dr. Mary Margaret Chantre, Cybersecurity Professor

Dr. Mary-Margaret Chantré, also on the cybersecurity faculty at Capitol, cautions against putting the cart before the horse. The more immediate problem, she says, is that adversaries are outpacing the cybersecurity profession’s ability to catch them. And that, she says, is largely because new technologies are being introduced at a rapid pace, often without sufficient awareness of the security vulnerabilities.

“We are not ahead of technology,” Chantré says. “Technology expands so quickly that we have to wait for attacks to happen before we can put the right measures in effect to protect ourselves from the next inevitable attack. Cybercriminals dedicate their lives to attacking while defenders are concerned with families and other activities other than work.”

“In other words they have a life,” she laughs. 

In Chantré’s view, the global challenge must be tackled from the ground up, by ensuring that cybersecurity is baked into the research and development process. “All technology must have cyber security advisors from start to finish. They must ensure that the system architecture is secure and be an integral part of the building or initiation phase and process -- not just the maintenance phase.” 

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Tags: Cybersecurity