the recent issue of the Bonn Power Shift Monitor is dedicated to cyber security.
Cyber attacks ranging from espionage and sabotage to full-blown cyber wars are growing into a serious threat to international security. In June, NATO recognized cyber space as the fifth domain of warfare and declared that cyber attacks on any of its members will be considered an act of war. In a highly digitalized global environment, new security vulnerabilities and possible targets are revealed on a daily basis: In the UK, the Apple Watch was just banned from cabinet meetings since the devices can be hacked into and misused as a listening device. As first demonstrated by WikiLeaks and most recently again by the attacks on the Clinton campaign, cyber attacks can pack a serious political punch which holds particularly true, for instance, in the “new Cold War”. According to Trenin, attackers take advantage of the growing rifts between Western populations and their political elites. In light of digital attacks on vulnerable parts of the political system, fears of Russia manipulating presidential elections and other hidden interferences with the democratic process have recently been spreading across the US.
During a talk with Putin at the G20 summit in Hangzhou, Obama warned of a cyber arms race and a digital “Wild Wild West”. Simultaneously, he pointed out the United States’ “strong offensive and defensive cyber security capabilities”. This statement, which is supported by the Global Cyber Security Index, seems to further spur the global digital armament, however. China will soon implement its new, further tightened cyber security law which will keep the control over all cyber issues firmly in the hands of the government. Meanwhile, Germany is expanding its offensive cyber capacities, with a special unit of the German Armed Forces having conducted its first offensive cyber operation abroad in 2015. Almost all governments are increasing their cyber abilities and digital alliances. In their 2015 cyber security cooperation deal, Russia and China not only agreed on mutual non-aggression, but also accentuated their shared commitment to “cyber-sovereignty” that sharply contrasts with the Western advocacy for “cyber freedom”, thus challenging US dominance in the cyber sphere too. This type of value-related and strategic issues aside, the technical dimension of control over the Internet itself remains under debate as well. This October, the United States surprisingly gave up its historical monopoly status as the Internet’s controlling power regarding infrastructure and technical protocols, a position which never sat well with the rest of the world.
Defense and deterrence are increasingly turning out to be ineffective and problematic foreign policy tools in the cyber security realm. The biggest issue regarding cyber security appears to be the lack of a legally binding international framework. Although there are various initiatives in the making, it will be hard to implement effective legal regulations for cyber space, particularly because it is nearly impossible to monitor and enforce the compliance with cyber treaties. Cyberspace was not designed to be secure and controllable – Soesanto predicts that international norms will have little impact on the activities of intelligence agencies in the fifth domain.
Prof. Dr. Xuewu Gu
Center for Global Studies, University of Bonn