We like historic analogies over here at Core Security, particularly those relating to Roman Empire infrastructure it seems, but if the shoe fits…
And, one could easily argue that the Roman Empire and its previously unparalleled road system, which spanned over 52,000 miles at its height, remains one of the first examples of a truly interconnected society, one with the same types of intrinsic benefits and risks posed by our rapidly advancing global electronic community.
For, while the Roman byways were essential to the expansive growth of their civilization, they also presented a double-edged sword to the Empire. For instance, in 213 B.C., Hannibal led a Carthaginian army astride elephants down the very roads the Romans built to engage them in battle.
Although Hannibal wasn’t victorious, his offensive represented the first attack on the Empire to utilize its own critical infrastructure against it. In essence, the Roman Empire’s network of roads had become its biggest Achilles’ heel in addition to one of its greatest strengths.
Today’s Shared Electronic Pathways
In our current day, over 2,000 years later, we find many modern-day Hannibals in cyberspace, but instead of riding lumbering elephants into Italy these attackers leverage worms and malware to swiftly target information on home computers, office systems and mobile devices worldwide.
The immediate fallout from a stolen credit card number or patient record may be obvious, but it’s important to note that each data breach also brings with it the potential for a significant ripple effect. Because of the interconnectivity afforded by the Internet, as well as by corporate and wireless networks, the initial breach of a low-level computer can open the door to other, more sensitive systems containing data that can fetch a high price on the black market.
And due to the hacker havens that currently exist in the developing world, the idea of creating a “Fortress America” in cyberspace remains practically impossible. Cyber-security remains too nascent to address all of our issues. The global information and communications infrastructure are highly interconnected across geographic borders and national jurisdictions, and threats to all the legitimate activities conducted in cyberspace are similarly global and transnational in nature.
Due to this interconnected nature of cyberspace, U.S. national interests can be threatened from any point on the globe and foreign or domestic actors cannot be ignored. Challenging the world’s developing nations to deinstitutionalize the underground cybercrime economy and refute the paradigm of “Robin Hood hacking” is an imperative. Cyberspace is a global environment and a global commons.
Enacting Meaningful Change
To achieve our goals, the United States must ensure that its cyberspace security strategy fully engages cooperation and active participation from the entire range of potential stakeholders. Within the global commons, the U.S. government cannot ensure security through its own actions alone. The U.S. must engage all of its diplomatic, economic, military and informational capabilities in pursuing global partnership and action to secure cyberspace.
The U.S. must ensure the security of its interests and those of its allies in this environment. We should demand freedom of trade and meaningful social dialogue as fundamental tenets of the global cyberspace commons, and cooperate with others to ensure that these freedoms exist as they do across the world’s oceans, and in outer space.
The globalized nature of the Internet is currently creating systemic risk to the U.S. economy and national security.
Banking on the World Bank
The World Bank has spent billions of dollars on connecting the developing world to the Internet through its Information & Communications Technology (ICT) projects and other e-finance initiatives.
U.S. telecommunication infrastructure and financial infrastructures are, of course, directly intertwined with those in the developing world, and much of the cybercrime activity originating from the these nations, enabled by weak enforcement regimes, can be remedied if the right approach is utilized.
Bilateral agreements per cybersecurity and enforcement are insufficient. Many nations have no real incentive to collaborate with the U.S. It is paramount to the success of our international efforts that we provide financial incentives to the developing world so that they can create a more secure cyberspace and assist in managing the systemic risks associated with the widespread compromise of those developing countries’ networks.
The development of more secure telecommunications infrastructure and financial systems worldwide, as well as capacity building per cybercrime enforcement, is critical and can be achieved through some of these existing World Bank programs.
The World Bank can serve as a stabilizing force in providing grants that harden the financial and telecommunications infrastructures overseas and in encouraging those countries to cooperate and help manage the systemic cyber-risk posed by the current widespread infestation of these global infrastructures.
Beyond hardening the large critical infrastructures of the world against cyber-attack and incenting these countries to cooperate with the U.S. government, we must increase the availability of qualified people in the developing world that can help discourage the technologically savvy from embracing the dark side and push more of them towards the white hat community.
A Truly Global IMPACT
One such organization which is currently building such capacity overseas is the International Multilateral Partnership Against Cyber Threats (IMPACT) – not to be confused with Core’s IMPACT penetration testing solutions.
Affiliated with both the United Nations and the International Telecommunications Union, IMPACT is a neutral body that disseminates and promotes best practices in information security to a large portion of the world.
IMPACT also provides services to the global cyber community in developing capacity to protect the Internet and other critical infrastructures. Based in Malaysia, this non-profit group offers a variety of services, including:
-A Global Threat Response Center
-Cyber-security Training and Capacity Building
-International Collaboration and Cooperation
From a U.S. perspective, IMPACT provides a means to help developing countries build capabilities to police their own piece of the Internet, and can drive training and capacity building in developing nations in a politically neutral fashion – which will inevitably increase trust between nations.
Improving the ability of countries to protect and secure their own critical infrastructures will help the U.S. government mitigate systemic global cyber risk.
Leveraging the neutrality and reach of bodies including World Bank and IMPACT can be a cost effective way for the U.S. to provide assistance to these developing countries in a multilateral way that promotes international cooperation and meets the Obama administration’s goals of improving multilateral partnerships in the securing of cyberspace.
Only through a truly international approach which includes incentives for developing countries, via grants appropriated to protect their critical infrastructures, through the creation of sustainable development programs that create a cyber-security workforce, can we begin to civilize cyberspace and eradicate the hacker havens that serve as launch pads for today’s modern staged attacks.
-Tom Kellermann, Vice President of Security Awareness