Cyberwarfare is No Longer in the Shadows

Working towards peace in the year 2020, and beyond, must span both the physical and digital worlds. That’s beginning to come across in views of the international community. As Cybersecurity Awareness Month comes to an end, there is growing concern about how cyberwarfare (which is when our technology is used as a means of attack and conflict) is eroding our sense of digital peace. Just think about the news you’ve seen recently — vaccine research facilities being hit by cyberattacks, companies that you might even work for getting hacked by state-sponsored groups, the potential for digital attacks to voting and election infrastructure, which could undermine globally consequential moments for democracy.

The Internet is a place to be protected and celebrated. Unfortunately, it’s increasingly being used as a weapon.

In recent years, governments, financial organizations, academic institutions, democracies, and even the health community have found themselves targeted directly or indirectly by nation-backed cyberattacks. With over 60 nations rapidly developing the sophistication and scale of their digital arsenals, we don’t have to speculate about when the age of cyberwarfare will be upon us. It’s already here.

My organization, Digital Peace Now, recently conducted a comprehensive data project spanning the United States, India, South Africa, Malaysia, Mexico, and France. The findings were stark: the international community sees cyberwarfare as a clear and present danger. With this data, we have, for the first time, a better understanding of what’s before us and what to do.

To start, here’s what we found:

We rely on connection more than ever before — and as such, we are more vulnerable than ever before. More than half of the world’s population is connected to the Internet (a percentage that is only going to grow in the years to come) and one-in-every-three of us have had a personal account hacked. According to our research, each of us spends between two-to-eight hours online daily, and the way we use technology is becoming more essential to our daily lives. Even our private lives. For example, across the world, 25-to-50 percent of our routine health tasks happen online.

The data also shows a cyberwar awareness gap among the general public. Many of us recognize that cyberattacks are happening often. Yet the more that people learn about cyberwarfare – about the damage, scope, targets, and frequency of cyberattacks – the more concerned they become. So much so that, after gaining a stronger awareness of the issue, 90 percent of people believe their way of life is at risk if the threat of cyberwarfare is not addressed, and more than 80 percent of people went as far as being willing to compare the threat of cyberattacks with that of nuclear arms.

So where do we go from here?

Most people back the idea of governments working with the tech industry to address cyberattacks. That’s one thing. But there is also growing support for a global “rules of the road” agreement to rein in cyberwarfare, which speaks volumes. We are all from different parts of the world, with different ideological, leadership, and political realities. Our perspectives won’t always align. But this research shows that the status quo, doing little to nothing, is not a solution that people want.

Look, I’m not a computer scientist, a cybersecurity specialist, a hacker, or a warfare expert. I am a digital citizen. I am an advocate for peace. I am someone who doesn’t want our digital world, a place like no other, to continue to be weaponized.

As a digital citizen, speaking to billions of other digital citizens around the globe, we must be the custodians of our digital world.

We must ensure that this place of our making is protected for generations to come.

— Written by Raj Burli, Digital Peace Now’s Global Ambassador.