In 2022, among many strategic flashpoints and security issues, cyberspace is going to be one of the contested spaces where the world powers’ strategic rivalry will be intense. Despite being the world leader in artificial intelligence, the US has been the target of both state and non-state cyber attacks and remains the most vulnerable. Not surprisingly, President Biden signed an Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity in May 2021, followed by a law of the K-12 Cybersecurity Act, to secure cyberspace which has acquired greater significance during the COVID-19 world. This is due to a growing awareness among American people about the cyber security threat, cyberattacks on American institutions and cyberspace acquiring great geopolitical significance. President Joe Biden will continue to reposition the US in emerging geopolitics, which has become more inflamed as the great power competition between the United States and China resurfaced since the COVID-19 outbreak.
In recent years, while the US appears to be divided on a number of subjects, most Americans think that cyber risks are on the horizon. A poll conducted in September 2021 by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the Pearson Institute on cyberattacks in the United States, came out with startling results. More than 90% recognise the need for protection against the risks of cyberattacks and are concerned about cyberattacks across a wide range of sectors, including financial, defense, and infrastructure in the United States. Over half, around 62% are concerned about the vulnerability of their personal information particularly in relation to financial organisations.
In terms of nation-state cyberattacks, Russia and China are considered the more aggressive and possibly harmful given their technological capabilities. Though the Russian and Chinese governments have officially refused to admit any transgressions, there have been concerns about nation-state hackers linked to these countries and the dangers they could bring to the US. This growing security concern in America has coincided with the growing anti-China sentiments that has been on the rise since 2018. The anti-China sentiments among Americans spiked significantly during the COVID-19 outbreak as revealed by the Pew Research Poll in April 2020. The negative view about China is bi-partisan and China is considered as the biggest security threat by an overwhelmingly 90 percent of Americans.
Cybercrime has emerged as one of the most serious security concerns, having a disruptive and negative impact on the economy, social and educational institutions, as well as military and political institutions. Educational institutions, on the other hand, have been easy prey. As per the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center’s incident map, since 2016, 1,180 cyber incidents have been documented in the US which excludes the unreported cyber attacks. On the economy front, cyber crime is expected to cost the global economy $6 trillion per year, constituting the largest exchange of wealth in history, and will be more lucrative than the global trade of all major drug traffickers put together.
Cyber security has further gained prominence due to the resurgence of the US-China strategic rivalry that triggered during the outbreak as evident in the Indo-Pacific. Consequently, in the recent Quad summits, the cyber security concern has acquired geopolitical significance. The latest major initiative on dealing with cyber security has been the US President’s letter to the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, urging them to discuss the matter with their allies and partners to strengthen collaboration in combating the threat. Under the Biden administration, the subject of cyber security has been discussed at virtual and in-person Quad summit sessions. The latest Quad summit held in person in Washington D.C. has stated its aim to regulate cyber standards, take efforts to close the cyber security talent gap, combat ransomware, raise cyber security awareness. This was clearly stated in the joint statements of Quad leaders and the launching of Quad Principles on Technology Design, Development, Governance, and Use in the hopes that these universal values will promote competition and innovation when it comes to making technological advancements.
All the Quad nations- the US, India, Japan and Australia- have been victims of cyber attacks and at the summit vowed to address threats to critical infrastructure, and launched a new cooperation in cyber space, pledged to work together to combat cyber threats, promote resilience, and secure their critical infrastructure. In this regard the pilot Quad Fellowship, funded by several major companies, aims to bridge the talent gap in technology among four nations to 100 graduate fellowships to leading science, technology, engineering, and mathematics graduate students across four countries.
Through the Quad Fellowship, the next generation of STEM talent will be prepared to lead the Quad and other like-minded partners towards the innovations that will shape shared future in the cyber space. The Quad has the potential to make significant progress on some of the most difficult technological and cyber security concerns.
China has been critical of Qaud since its inception in 2007. Beijing sees it as an anti-China grouping and recently questioned its survivability. After the hiatus for almost more than a decade, the Quad has re-emerged as a potent bulwark against China’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific and is no more confined to the military dimension but has taken steps to tackle a range of security challenges including cyber security. In addition to the Quad, the AUKUS security alliance between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom could be another important step in the fight against cyber security threats. The US must continue to engage with allies and partners to improve their cyber security capabilities by investing in skills and experience that they can share.
Many countries around the world have been subjected to ongoing and increasingly sophisticated damaging cyberattacks that put the corporate sector, public sector, and national security at risk. In the coming years, the cyber security challenge will become more serious bringing the geopolitics component of this new security dilemma into sharper focus. Since its inception in the 1960s, the internet has grown to such a size and scope that its governability and accessibility have been at odds. The world powers will need to work together for rules-based and shared use of this space. In 2022, akin to the global warming challenge, President Biden must continue to focus on the challenge of dealing with China and Russia on the pressing issue of cyber security, which not only jeopardises innovation and investment but also puts the world at risk of war.
Disclaimer Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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