This last week saw world leaders gathering in Davos in the Swiss Alps for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting. With the WEF releasing its Risk and Responsibility in a Hyperconnected World and its Global Risks 2014 report (which highlighted the threat of ‘digital disintegration’) within the previous month, cyber issues were high on the agenda. The Big Brother Problem panel session was of particular note, bringing together a diverse range of perspectives on the topic du jour, digital surveillance.
Ahead of the first Cybertech 2014 Conference in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used Davos to highlight the ‘innovation nation’s’ digital economy and cyber prowess. Meeting with top tech leaders earlier in the week, the Prime Minister’s pitch wasn’t stalled by news that Israel’s defence systems were compromised by the Xtreme Rat trojan, preliminarily attributed to Palestinian hackers.
Israel is hardly alone in facing cyber threats, or so finds CrowdStrike’s Global Threat Report (PDF) released last Wednesday. The report found some interesting wider trends reflective of the changing cyber geography, including increased capabilities and operational tempo in the Middle East, with Syria being particularly active. It also reflected expectations that dropping hardware costs will increase the risk of hardware-based attacks. The report also found shifting tactics in Russian cyber espionage, with the government allegedly channelling its inner dragon and resorting to Chinese style commercial espionage to keep its industries competitive.
More overtly, Russia is also set to ratchet up its cyber surveillance efforts ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics set to kick off next week. To augment its ‘Iron Ring’ security plan on the ground, the government is expected to launch near total surveillance of communications and online activities during the games. While most acknowledge the seriousness of threats to security at the Olympics, the intrusiveness of government efforts and the potential surveillance ‘legacy’ of the games have raised serious privacy concerns among activists, local residents, visitors, the media, and even athletes.
Despite the long weekend, Australia was also active on the cyber front. On her travels in the US, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop gave a speech in which she accused Edward Snowden of ‘treachery’. But she has since also said that domestic intelligence reforms like those proposed by President Obama were not needed in Australia. On the other hand, the Department of Communications does see a need for reforms, at least in regards to cyber safety. Now open to public consultation, the proposed changes include the establishment of a Children’s e-Safety Commissioner, legislation to develop a ‘complaint system’ to remove ‘harmful material’, and reviewing cyberbullying offence legislation. While higher ups at Symantec Asia Pacific and Japan as well as Kaspersky Lab Australia have come out in support of effective cyber safety efforts, the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Facebook, eBay, Google, Twitter, and other leading voices in the IT sector are strongly opposed to these ‘counter productive’ measures.
Klée Aiken is an analyst in ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre.