Cyber-attacks remain a potential threat to global economy

On November 11, 2018, world leaders met in Paris, France for the commemorative event of Armistice Day, 100 years after the end of the World War I. The commemoration aims to solidify unity and multilateralism as the only way to achieve common ends.

The WWI commemorations come at a watershed moment for the liberal post-war order, where the leaders recommitted to maintaining international peace and security. A wide range of issues were discussed, which pose threats to global order, such as terrorism, global warming, cyberattacks, and wars.

The deliberations were much reflective of the UN principles and purposes, inter alia, to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace; to achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and to harmonize the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

But this column picks cyber-attack, one of the greatest global threats. During the commemorative event, France and U.S. technology giants, including Microsoft, urged world governments and companies to sign up to a new initiative to regulate the internet and fight threats such as cyber-attacks, online censorship and hate speech.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who hosted other world leaders, called for a declaration entitled ‘Paris call for trust and security in cyberspace’. Equally, world leaders expressed the need for revival of efforts to regulate cyberspace after the last round of United Nations negotiations failed in 2017. Between 2016/2017, a Group of Governmental Experts on Information Security (GGE) was tasked by the UN General Assembly with the study of existing and potential threats in the sphere of information security and measures to address them, including “norms, rules, and principles of responsible behavior of states, confidence-building measures, and capacity-building.” Over the course of one year, the Group failed to arrive at a consensus outcome report due to diverging views on the international law and its application. With the apparent failure of the 2016/2017 GGE, one is left wondering whether and how this crucial conversation is going to continue.

Admittedly, the internet is a space currently managed by a technical community of private players, but remains ungoverned. To date, millions and millions of the world population are netizens, there’s a need to find new ways to organize and regulate the internet. Currently, the internet is free, open and perhaps unsecure, hence will be damaged by the new cyber-threats.

It is imperative to note that the internet users will be secure unless and until the governments and tech giants cooperate to fix increasingly internet ills. Indeed, multilateral cooperation in promoting a safe and secure global internet is one of the most effective approaches to prevent and combat cyber-threats.

The Internet governance remains a pressing issue that major stakeholders [Governments and giant high tech-corporations] must come together as equals in discussions on public policy issues relating to the Internet.

The question of international law and its application has been the bone of contention since the beginning of UN discussions in 1998. Back then, the General Assembly initiated the negotiation of an international treaty, but the idea has been vigorously opposed by Western states but still finds appeal almost every year to take action. On the face of it, many countries are reluctant to adopt an international legally binding instrument. Moreover, much of concerns revolve around the “inherent right” of a state to take measures consistent with international law and the UN Charter without expressly mentioning the right to self-defense or Article 51 of the Charter. The perspective is that the inherent right may be compromised once they adopt an international legally binding instrument.

With the lack of agreement on international law and its application, this and many other aspects (including norms, confidence-building measures, and capacity-building) remain up in the air. A lack of cyberspace governance/regulation will likely compounded the cyber-threats in years ahead.

There’s a desperate need of cyber resilience, which is a critical economic issue for States and Companies. As increasing areas of our economies and daily lives become dependent on and transformed by digital connectivity, the internet multi-stakeholders must acknowledge the necessity of norms, rules, and principles of responsible behavior of states, confidence-building measures, and capacity-building. This must be backed by enhanced coordination on cybersecurity and cybercrime as a practical framework for better coordination among multilateral organisations in their provision of assistance to States.

What’s next? The next is to build on this momentum. As for today it is absolutely obvious that we need to share our practices on greater scale and look for partnerships in each initiative or project etc. It would be good for States to move from their comfort zones and take action that would enable all the internet users to enjoy it more safely and securely. This must be the prime agenda; it must be a common understanding and undertaking for all multi-stakeholders.

The writer is a law expert.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.