EU should push for a transnational cyber security network

By Catherine Lefèvre
posted on March 13, 2014 in Security/Intelligence

Catherine Lefèvre, volunteer researcher at ISD London and Co-founder of GPPW.org, argues that the EU should take the lead in creating a transnational cyber security network.

In our increasingly interconnected and digital world, cyber-security has come to be considered one of the main security challenges of the 21st century, not only for Europe but also worldwide. Much like their citizens, governments have embraced online technology to improve communication and provide enhanced services. Examples such as Estonia’s E-governance infrastructure, considered one of the world’s most advanced with services like E-business, E-notary and E-voting, have inspired many other countries in Europe and worldwide.  

Recently a number of EU countries have started to adopt similar E-governance initiatives seeing it as the future. Finland recently went one step further, signing an agreement to cooperate with Estonia on the continued development of its E-governance system. And it is almost certain that in time other countries will follow suit.

However, the increased reliance on these advanced electronic services comes at a price. It has rendered the public and the private sector increasingly vulnerable to so-called ‘cyber terrorism’ and ‘digital espionage’. High profile examples include the cyber-attack on Estonia in 2007 when governmental and banking websites were rendered inoperable as a result of a political protest. Also the case of Edward Snowden, a former NSA employee who leaked a vast amount of secret online documents, revealing, amongst other things, that the USA conducted around 231 invasive cyber operations in 2011 aimed at countries such as China, Iran, North Korea and Russia.

With cyber warfare practiced by individuals and states alike, it is clear that online security is already equally important to any other national security issue. But how can the EU counter this threat?

The greatest challenge in combatting cyber terrorism according Eugene Kaspersky, founder of Kaspersky Lab, is that it is nearly impossible to track down the attackers: "with today's attacks, you are clueless about who did it or when they will strike again”. Broadly speaking the internet is not limited by geographical borders or jurisdiction, however governments, businesses and the organizations that currently combat such threats are.

Currently responsible for cyber security in the EU is ENISA, a primarily passive organization providing knowledge exchange and information on cyber security. If the EU is serious about combatting cyber terrorism then a new approach to enforcing cyber security is necessary. The EU has the ability to transcend borders and unite its members and therefore the opportunity to create a more active, unified, focused and structured approach. It should also present a more coherent strategy to the world from a unified force that could potentially collaborate with other nations and international agencies.

A common framework or organization could be established that would take advantage of this and allow governments, corporations, secret services, military and police to cooperate on such matters without being constrained by geography.    

Greater connectivity is a double-edged sword; it leaves you more vulnerable to an attack but also more flexible and capable to counter it. The whole world is becoming increasingly connected and it stands to reason that those within the EU responsible for countering cyber terrorism should do the same.

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