Cyber-diplomats from around the world say they want the internet to be safe, secure, and free of interference. Of course, they believe it’s the fault of other nations that the internet is not safe, secure or free of interference.
The Reg attended Singapore International Cyber Week 2022, where officials from twelve countries had an airing of grievances across three separate panels, as if they were seated at carefully arranged tables at a wedding.
Artur Lyukmanov, acting director of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Department on International Information Security, appeared in the first panel beside representatives from Ghana, Mexico, and the Philippines. The group discussed cyber-strategies as the world enters a post-COVID digital boom.
As themes of interconnectedness, shared responsibility, and a borderless digital existence were lofted, Lyukmanov advocated for the use of legally-binding arrangements between governments to establish trust, discouraging the “militarization of the digital sphere.”
“Some countries use ICT for military purposes and do not hide it,” said Lyukmanov, namechecking the United States. “We should stop these actions and come to the table, and talk the way you do here in Singapore in International Cyber Week. I was lucky to be invited. I prefer coming here than to the UN because the US does everything possible to restrict discussions.”
“In my humble observation, we have international law, we have the UN,” said Lyukmanov at the close of the discussion. “You can’t force a foreign government to do what you want, but you can come to terms through mutual will.”
“It doesn’t matter how far Mexico is from the Philippines or Ghana, we face the same direction from cyber,” offered Gerardo Isaac Morales Tenorio, Mexico’s coordinator for multidimensional security, curiously leaving Russia off the list.
A second panel featuring ministers from the United States, New Zealand, Germany, and Brunei took the stage to discuss safeguarding of a shared digital future.
The USA’s deputy national security advisor for cyber and emerging technology, Anne Neuberger, outlined government initiatives she said drive the entrepreneurial spirit of Big Tech toward responsible capitalism.
Meanwhile, Germany’s ambassador for cyber foreign policy, Regine Grienberger, vowed to both protect the existence of an open internet and impose regulations in a world where voluntary guidelines do not suffice for managing the vast volume of life and business led online.
Some countries use ICT for military purposes and do not hide it
Grienberger said that as Germany had already experienced two repressive regimes in the 20th century, the country was very aware of risk regarding surveillance and what data governments collect and uses. She then cited another element to be wary of in terms of surveillance: capitalism. The private sector is collecting data, said Grienberger, and that’s worrying.
“The more data a company owns, the more responsibility they have,” said Grienberger.
The morning’s last panel included cyber officials from China, Australia, the Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom who discussed building confidence and trust in cyberspace.
Tobias Feakin, Australia’s ambassador for cyber affairs and critical technology, emphasized trust. “Where we find ourselves, unfortunately, is that trust is intrinsically being challenged, and no government in the room would say they don’t find that a challenge. In terms of government policies, while many are trying to enable their population through cyberspace, that equation isn’t always clear.”
“Frankly, it seems certain countries and criminals undermine the hard work that’s been done and unravels trust that’s been built up,” he added.
China’s coordinator for cyber affairs, Wang Lei, shared that cyberspace reflects the real world, a point he returned to frequently. “If you read the statement by US Homeland Security this week, you will find it interesting and it shows how conflict has real world impact on cyberspace,” said Wang.
At the same conference on Monday, US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas referred to PRC-backed hackers as “among the most active groups targeting governments and critical infrastructure this year.”
During the panel, Wang said the purpose of some government policies is to maintain monopoly power instead of competition.
“When competition happens, people buy a better product, and a monopoly is the opposite. We have to repeatedly stress we have no interest to challenge countries; we just want Chinese to have a better life,” said Wang. He added that Huawei is on sanctions lists because the company is a leading provider on the market.
Wang also told the audience that “middle ground” countries are not properly heard during policy negotiations and the “big countries” have monopolized cyberspace frameworks.
The Czech Republic’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, Marin Dvořák, then offered a metaphor of all countries swimming in one pool.
“However, in this pool are some predators and they come not just for us but to destroy the basin,” said the Czech minister.
“When we witness a country that is not respecting international law, how can we trust the same country will respect it in cyberspace?” Dvořák added.
While the Singaporean moderator of the third panel, deputy secretary Alan Goh, seemed keen to take a softball question from the audience, Australia’s Feakin navigated Goh instead toward a question on how to build trust when some countries are drawn to offensive cyber capabilities.
Feakin said the majority of countries were building out cyber offensive capabilities, but only a minority were transparent in how it was applied.
“There will be a lack of trust if there’s a complete denial,” he said.
Wang responded that it was difficult to have trust in cyberspace as allied nations rallied to make agreements.
“China believes we should not turn cyberspace into a battlefield,” Wang said. “Some countries agree it’s natural to turn it into a battleground because they have an advantage.”
As for the UK, minister of state Baroness Neville-Rolfe said in terms of cybersecurity that the two island nations of Britain and Singapore “both punch above [their] weight.”
The Baroness ended the conversation with what she called one fundamental point: that cybersecurity is the risk of the digital world, but one needs to look at opportunity, not just risk. ®