What to do about a challenge like cyberattacks

Andrea Stroppa
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U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says that Wednesday’s computer problems at United Airlines and the New York Stock Exchange were not related to any criminal or treacherous activity. Nevertheless, the initial reaction of officials serves to underline the wider issue of cybersecurity.

At about the same time as the computer outages FBI Director James Comey was explaining to Congress that it isn’t always possible to intercept ISIS encrypted communication.

“Our job is to look at a haystack the size of the country for needles that are increasingly invisible to us because of encryption.”

To put those issues in a broader context, a renowned Italian security company called Hacking Team has been attacked by unidentified hackers and internal documents have been disseminated online.

While Hacking Team has always claimed to sell its custom software only to government agencies of democratic countries, those leaked documents show that repressive regimes are also on their customer list.

The publication of material designed to help law enforcement and intelligence services to prevent terrorism and criminal activities could undermine legitimate investigations under way and help criminals and terrorists circumvent security software

This is a complex situation. Many governments don’t have the resources or expertise to deal with the threat. One example: the EU has yet to produce a substantial policy covering all 28 member countries.

In the US, the political debate is getting heated as the power of high-tech and security companies who favour less regulation runs headlong into the backlash from Edward Snowden’s leaking of material from the National Security Agency.

The list of countries with a specific national cyber security policy is growing and information-sharing among worldwide nations is increasing. But the reality is that cyberattacks on companies are also becoming more common. And that’s forcing some to take matters in their own hands by investing in expensive cybersecurity measures.

Even if Wednesday’s computer system malfunctions turn out to have been just a coincidence, the reality is that the world needs long-term policy solutions that work at national and international levels. Our digital, networked and inter-connected planet requires information-sharing and common strategies to face this increasing threat – before it really is too late.

Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Andrea Stroppa is an internet security researcher and blogger for Huffington Post Italia.

Image: A hand is silhouetted in front of a computer screen in this picture illustration taken in Berlin. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski   

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