Cyber attacks on hospitals during the Covid-19 pandemic showed just how vulnerable our vital healthcare providers can be. How can we bring about cyberpeace and what would that world look like?
The full danger and the immorality of criminal attacks in cyberspace was made clear during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. It brought to the surface ongoing attacks, cybercrime and nation state attacks on, of all things, hospitals and healthcare authorities.
Less than a month after the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a pandemic, INTERPOL warned that hospitals around the world were being targeted by ransomware attacks, designed to lock them out of their IT systems until they paid a ransom to the criminals.
Shocking as it may seem that criminals would target healthcare providers during the worst pandemic in living memory, this activity is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to threats to cyberpeace. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2021 identified “cybersecurity failure” as the fourth largest clear and present danger facing the world, behind infectious diseases, livelihood crises and extreme weather events.
There is a cyberwar being fought and it manifests in not only criminal activity and attacks by nation states but also in abuse and threats, directed particularly at women and minorities, and damaging disinformation campaigns. It doesn’t have to be like this, however.
“In cyberspace,” says Stéphane Duguin, CEO of the CyberPeace Institute, “everyone — citizens, governments, private sector, civil society — has a role to play. This collective action is essential to promoting justice, effecting change and ensuring human security, dignity and equity – achieving cyberpeace.”
The Cyberpeace Institute is working to create a world where safe and universal internet access is the norm. We spoke to some of our members about what cyberpeace means, and how we can achieve it.
Establishing rules to protect people
Latha Reddy, Co-chair of the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace, says that cyberpeace will come “when we are all able to use cyberspace as a medium of communication which is safe, secure, open and stable”. For too many people worldwide, that isn’t the case today.
It’s possible for bad actors to act anonymously and operate from territories outside the reach of the law. A world at cyberpeace, says Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, would be “a world where we have the norms and rules of behaviour and laws that regulate in order to protect people”.
In such a world, behavioural norms would prevent much online antisocial behaviour from even happening. But when it did, says Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, we would have systems “built on data to hold bad actors accountable”. Making that happen requires more than technology, however. It takes international efforts to bring together stakeholders from government, business and the public.
Bringing inclusiveness to cyberspace
Fabrizio Hochschild, recently appointed as UN Special Envoy on Technology, says: “It begins with bringing the 3.6 billion people without access today online and preventing the digital divide from becoming the new face of digital inequality.”
A world at cyberpeace is also one with justice and inclusion – neither one of which can be achieved without equal access to cyberspace and the possibilities that it opens up for people and communities all over the world.
Most of all, a world that is at cyberpeace will be one where our technology supports the well-being of all human beings and helps them to live their lives free from fear and want. That could mean being able to work and run businesses online, contributing to society and joining conversations, or simply getting information that is trustworthy and reliable.
The CyberPeace Institute is working for a peaceful future by analysing attacks, exposing gaps in accountability and forecasting future threats. The Institute assists vulnerable populations, tells the stories of those who have no voice and reveals the impact of cyber threats on human lives. Supporters and volunteers around the world are campaigning for peace in cyberspace.
It will not be easy to achieve but, as Catherine Adeya, Director of Research, World Wide Web Foundation, says: “We must protect our children. We must protect our women from violence and abuse and we must protect ourselves”
What are your priorities for bringing about cyberpeace? Let us know on social media.