Gone are the days when we could see our enemy coming and protect ourselves using military might. Today, the weapons threatening our national security are largely invisible and can be unleashed from any corner of the globe. Hostile actors can use our own data, influence and public perception against us in an increasingly alarming manner.
Staying ahead of threats to our national and personal security has never been so complex, which is the next issue we tackle in our series of complimentary online speaker events called Invested in the Future. Ahead of the Future of Security event, we examine some of the threats we face.
According to a report by Atlas VPN,[i] more than $1 trillion was spent on global cybersecurity last year, which is equal to one percent of the world’s GDP. Despite this, cybercrime is a huge threat to global security. No person, business or government is immune, and it is becoming more sophisticated by the day. Some of the more common examples of cybercrime include:
- Crypto jacking, where hackers take control of their unsuspecting victim’s computer to mine cryptocurrency.
- Ransomware, which is malicious software placed on a victim’s computer that encrypts their files. The victim is then forced to pay a ransom to regain access to those files.
- Theft and sale of corporate and/or personal financial and payment data.
- Phishing for sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by using an email or other means of communication that impersonates a trustworthy company.
Cybercrime comes in all forms, from teenagers hacking political figures from their bedrooms to large and sophisticated espionage groups, such as the Russian ‘Fancy Bear’ group, which is often linked to government intelligence. Fancy Bear is thought to be responsible for cyberattacks on the White House, NATO, and the German and Norwegian governments, with a view to influencing election results.
From humble beginnings as a simple way for friends to connect on the internet, social media platforms are now at the forefront of national security concerns for several reasons:
Social media platforms have shown their power in galvanising large social movements, such as the Extinction Rebellion protests, even taking the blame for facilitating President Trump’s incitement of discord and giving rise to the recent breach of the US Capitol.
‘Fake news’ threatens the accuracy of the information we receive and makes it harder for us to tell the difference between fact and fiction. A recent example of this is the ‘anti-vaccine’ messaging being disseminated across platforms such as Facebook. If enough people believe these messages, which are proven to be false, then it undermines the world’s ability to beat the global pandemic.
A third issue with social media platforms is how our personal data is mined and used. In 2018, Facebook was sued for allowing Cambridge Analytica to harvest the data of 87 million people for election advertising. And last year, the US attempted to ban people using TikTok and WeChat because of links between their parent companies and the Chinese government. The US government protested that personal data of its citizens was being used unlawfully, including their network activity, location data and browsing and search histories.
Governments are also having to monitor the security of the devices and network infrastructure on which we so heavily rely. The Huawei and 5G network controversy is a case in point. In May last year, the US introduced sanctions against Huawei, a Chinese company that is the largest provider of telecoms equipment in the world. The fear was that Huawei products could allow snooping and sabotage by China. The UK followed suit, removing the Chinese phone-maker from the UK's 5G mobile networks. UK mobile providers are banned from buying new Huawei 5G equipment, and they will have to remove all 5G kit from their networks by 2027.
International relations and global threats
A huge amount of damage can be done to economies around the world without a single military threat. Take the covid-19 crisis as an example. The past year has laid bare the threat of biological warfare to the global economy and civilian safety. Perhaps we will never know if covid-19 was a deliberate act or a pandemic waiting to happen, but it has had the effect of strengthening China’s position economically relative to the west. And regardless of how it all began, China withheld vital information at the start of the crisis, allowing the virus to spread, and it continues to conceal evidence from the World Health Organisation’s investigations.
Climate change is another example. It’s a global issue that should unite us all but has so far divided us. Boris Johnson recently said that climate change is a "geopolitical issue every bit as much as it is an environmental one". If food production, access to fresh water, habitable temperatures and ocean food chains break down, so will civilisation as we know it. And if we can’t work together, experts believe it presents the greatest threat to global security of all.
Register for our Future of Security event
Global and national security is a fascinating subject, and one that affects us all. If you are interested in finding out more, please do register for our Future of Security event, where we talk to Major General Jonathan Shaw, army veteran and the UK’s first Head of Cybersecurity. He separates threats from hype and explores the part cyber plays in geopolitics while describing a model of leadership that’s far more progressive than many imagine. Register now.