Geo-strategic dimensions and cybersecurity crisis

Published : 01 Nov 2022 07:45 PM

Analysts in the European Union have started expre­ssing their anxiety over cyber security in Europe. One can recall such nervousness having taken place a few years ago at the time of the Trump Administration. Subse­quently fingers were also pointed towards China and North Korea.

This evolving dimension and the instability resulting out of Ukraine and the change in modalities in NATO has been drawn attention to by Andrea Garcia Rodriguez. It has been indicated that Europe needs to view the evolving circumstances as a wake-up call for itself.

Consequently, a suggestion has been made that the EU must quickly adopt the revised Network and Information Security (NIS2) Directive that will improve its operational readiness. It has been remarked that the Ukraine war has now crossed eight months but its osmotic effect within Europe is discernible partially also in the computer networks and information systems. It is being mentioned that a wave of cyber attacks – is impeding access to government websites, including those of the military and banks.

Cyber analysts are recalling that after the emergence of the Ukraine debacle in the fourth week of February cyber attacks, disrupting communication networks have become common. These attacks have affected not only physical but the in-place space infrastructure. Cyber activity knocked out communication satellites from Viasat, an American firm providing space-based broadband services across Europe. Consequently, the attacks have not only affected Ukraine but also other European customers that rely on the firm’s services.

These cyber attacks have apparently also demonstrated that network interconnectedness is a critical element of cyberspace and our physical world. This reminder comes at a time when the EU is reviewing its Network and Information Security (NIS) Directive 2016/1148 – the basic cyber security framework for EU companies and institutions – and working on a proposal for a European Cyber Resilience Act. The recently adopted Strategic Compass has also proposed creation of a common EU cyber defence policy framework.

This emerging circumstance has led Andrea Garcia Rodriguez to propose that there is urgent need to develop a EU cyber policy in these troubled times.

In this context, attention has been drawn to the fact that Space infrastructure is becoming increasingly important for the European economy, as both an emerging industry and support for critical ground-based infrastructure- power grids and essential communication. Currently, as in the rest of the world, financial transactions, military operations, communications, border controls and natural disaster forecasting, tend to rely on space infrastructure. Space assets also ensure internet access in remote areas. Cyber attacks on space systems, therefore, according to the analyst, represent a significant risk for Europe’s economy and security. As such, the review of the directive (NIS2) would finally establish the space industry as an essential sector for the EU economy. Consequently, the operators of space systems would also have to increase cyber security and monitor and communicate cyber incidents.

However, it has also been noted that despite cyber attacks, networks have remained reasonably functional in some of the contentious areas. This time some cyber specialists from other countries including the USA, the UK and Canada and hacktivists groups are apparently helping European countries to better defend, mitigate and recover from the current cyber attacks.

It is understood that the Lithuanian defence ministry, to defend itself, has also pro-actively taken steps to deploy an EU Cyber Rapid Response Team (CRRT) with the help of EU military cooperation. This measure for defending Lithuanian networks is being taken forward by cyber security experts from EU countries like Estonia, Poland and Romania. This is the first time that CRRT has been deployed. It proves EU countries’ ability to work collaboratively in response to cyber threats in a real-life crisis. It also opens the door for stronger collaboration among member states and with partner actors from both military and civil fields in the future.

It has also been observed by other strategists that the current world instability has reiterated the notion that in a world of growing geopolitical competition and volatility, achieving a high degree of cyber resilience is crucial to guard the European economy and security against cyber attacks. However, beyond resilience – which refers to the ability to detect, protect, respond and recover from cyber attacks –, a step forward would be to adopt an active cyber defence measure that supports deterrence. This is exactly what Bangladesh is also trying to undertake as a format of defensive action.

In this context, one needs to believe that EU- Bangladesh cooperation within such a paradigm could help the EU as well as Bangladesh to benefit from enhanced rapidness when responding to malicious cyber activities, thereby improving our capacity to mitigate threats. If data is stolen, an active cyber defence could help limit its circulation. An active cyber defence would also help retrieve information about the attacker and the tools used. This would definitely improve not only the capacity of cyber deterrence and resilience but also legal and operational certainty which is needed for credible physical and economic security.

The last geo-strategic parameter that has emerged because of the changing dimensions where the world has transitioned from a global health crisis to a geopolitical one relates to the question of the measures related to the anti-corruption matrix.

Analysts from all over the world have been monitoring carefully the evolving socio-political dimensions in Sudan, Burkina Faso, Kazakhstan and Portugal as the war has continued to rage on in Ukraine. Glencorse and Sanjeeta Pant, in this context has highlighted that while most G20 countries have made some progress in their efforts to curb corruption, that has not always been the case in the case of an evolving dynamic where some countries have been positioning themselves as offshore tax havens. 

We all know that the past few weeks, because of the shifting sands in different parts of Eastern Europe, the US and most of Europe has come together to freeze the assets of controversial financial institutions associated with alleged kleptocracy. This has also led some of the world leaders to recently meet once again and try to find least common denominators as to how to step-up further the fight against corruption both at home and abroad. 

The civil society associated with fighting corruption has also reiterated that they should be able to monitor conflicts of interest and relationships between policymakers and corporations, free of charge.

It may be mentioned here that the Civil-20 (C20) which engages the G20 on behalf of civil society, has been calling for increased accountability from world leaders on critical anti-corruption issues for a long time. They feel that the current instability in Eastern Europe has only reinforced the need for a focus on the priorities identified by the C20 this year.

This organization has been referring for some time to the need to combat money laundering and the recovery of stolen assets. In this context, reference has been made to some institutions of a few countries that have assisted in the alleged laundering of  illegal wealth into other countries. 

The C20, in this regard has also underlined that some networks exist in Western countries to facilitate such illegal transfer of funds. This process is facilitated by accountants, lawyers and real estate agents resident and functioning in the receiving countries. 

The recent inter-play of sanctions in Europe have also renewed focus on corporate governance and how corporate compliance on issues like foreign bribery, corruption and conflict of interests- including in state owned enterprises and public private partnerships (PPP)- can be more effectively enforced. However, there is general agreement that there is need for the all G-7 and G-20 countries to be carefully monitored. They must take measures to strengthen transparency and integrity in business by criminalizing private sector bribery; enacting whistleblower policies in the private sector; and ensuring accounting and auditing standards to prohibit off-the-book accounts.

It is true that the G20 countries have made some progress in this regard within their national borders. Nevertheless, there are often lax laws through offshore tax havens that are under their jurisdictions. Ownership data of black money and those facilitating such transfer should be made available through transparent web portals.  If so required, it should be made public. Citizens and civil society everywhere should be able to monitor conflicts of interest or relationships between policymakers and corporations, free of charge.

Different evolving revelations of misdeeds in South Asia have also highlighted once again the need to address corruption issues with care and not permit delay in such areas because of absence of the pertinent information as and when required to facilitate good culpable governance. We have seen what has transpired in Sri Lanka. 

We have also had revelations of the different parameters of corruption that have taken place in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Bangladesh needs to move forward through culpable corporate governance. In this context we can try to take lessons from Japan.

In this month of October, forty-seven years ago, when some criminals massacred Bangabandhu and his family members and tried to eradicate justice through the Indemnity Ordinance, injustice came to the forefront. Individual benefit was given priority over that of the citizens.

Now, we must understand that community welfare and resurgence of socio-economic growth after the Pandemic and the recent floods will only be possible if we try and put the welfare of the country ahead of just only the interests of some individuals. The European Union as well as the rest of the world understands that the completion of the Padma Bridge has been an effective and strategic step in the right direction. This can be facilitated further through effective use of digitalization and associated liability.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance