When building a safe cyber world, it is worth starting with the identification of where and how much our functioning is linked to cyberspace – recommends Joanna Świątkowska, Ph.D., the initiator and the director of the CYBERSEC CEE congress in a conversation with Anna Zagórna

Anna Zagórna: How should we talk about cybersecurity? How relevant is it today?

Joanna Świątkowska*: The systems, networks and digital devices influence all key parts of our lives – individual, social, economic – including the national security. We need to think about cyber security as a strategic challenge, an investment and commitment priority. Additionally, it is becoming more evident that new technologies are becoming a geopolitical challenge. 5G-related issues show this clearly – the biggest powers put digital development at the center of rivalry. It should not surprise us – the strength of each player will depend on it.

Which social groups and areas do you consider to be vital from each citizen’s point of view?

If we talk about social groups, social classes which are particularly vulnerable then I think these are groups which are unaware of present dangers, or they don’t know how to protect themselves (it is often children and senior citizens)

From the perspective of areas – financial sector is faced with the biggest threat, as well as the systems, devices, databases, connected to the national security.

So anyone can be a cyber attack victim? A child? A farmer? A single-family home? Can my 78-year-old father be a cyber crime victim?

If the father, the child, the farmer uses a computer, a smartphone, or their house, farm, uses devices connected to the Internet, which are operated by ICT devices, then the unfortunate answer is: yes.

New technologies are becoming a major geopolitical challenge

Modern technologies, on the one hand, make our lives so much easier, it is actually the basis of functioning in the world today, while on the other – there are a lot of risks we must be aware of.

Cyber attacks which can cause the most damage, of which we should be made aware, are…

I believe these are the ones that can damage the critical infrastructure, meaning the systems, devices and services essential for functioning of key state systems: health, transport and energy sectors. From the perspective of an individual, incidents linked to money, identity theft and privacy are a huge problem. The scale and the consequences are different.

Will the appearance of 5G and 6G networks make the lives of cyber criminals much easier? What should the business and the industry be careful about?

The networks of new generation will open up incredible opportunities for users, the industry, they will also increase the potential of substitute actions. For several reasons. Among others, due to how 5G is built – such as a higher significance of software. Additionally, the number of objects, items and processes connected to the Internet will increase a lot. More targets means a bigger attack probability, more serious consequences and a bigger incentive for those who want to do damage.

How will artificial intelligence influence the matters of cyber security?

Artificial intelligence and machine learning have huge potential when it comes to more effective counteraction, detection and reduction of threats originating from the Internet.

On the other hand, it can contribute to making the actions of enemy actors more damaging, for example by making advanced social manipulation more effective.

Preventive measures will depend on what kind of threats we talk about.

If world powers continue to grow and compete, are we in danger of a cyberwar?

I am far from making such catastrophic predictions. What is more, I urge people not to say ‘’cyberwar.’’ This term blurs a concrete analysis a bit. Additionally, words carry consequences with them, including a form of a potential response to an attack, as well as legal matters.

New generation networks will open up incredible opportunities for users and the industry, but they will also make criminal activities worse

Digital elements have enormous significance in the military world and are essential to functioning of many military aspects and other subjects involved in ensuring national security. This trend will be more pronounced.

For now at least, using cyberspace is limited to strengthening and support of conventional forces. It would be difficult to achieve a strategic aim with cyber attacks alone. So, for now, the main application of the digital potential is on operational and tactical levels.

Is it possible to build a safe digital world?

The answer depends on which area we look at. Are we talking about the individual level, a company level, perhaps a national level – it is worth identifying how much our functioning is linked to cyberspace – what kind of services, devices, systems we use – and for what purpose? Then, it is worth thinking about potential threats and their consequences, the probability of a particular threat materializing – and adjusting our actions accordingly.

How important is the role of governments in digital protection?

The role of governments is multidimensional. The answer to the question depends on the details, yet again. The purpose of the state is, first and foremost, the ensuring of proper conditions for the operations of all those who ought to take care of secure functioning of key systems, services, infrastructure. Sometimes regulations will be needed, sometimes investment, etc. It is worth noticing other elements: the state ought to support security and take care of citizen rights, e.g. in the context of privacy, it should support the market of new technology development, as well as actively work in the international arena. Today, cyber security mainly translates to the geopolitical dimension.

You are the program director of CYBERSEC CEE. What new will be on the conference in comparison to previous editions?

This year, these are the topics revolving around the industrial espionage in cyberspace: the security of the Internet of Things in industry, building cybersecurity in developing countries. Mind you, novelties do not always mean a conference is well-organized, that it is on a high level. The tangible worth is the most important aspect for us, even in things which were previously addressed. The digital world and the problems associated with it are constantly evolving, so there is never a shortage of topics to talk about each year.

*Joanna Świątkowska, Ph.D.adjunct at the AGH University of Science and Technology. Program director of the European Cybersecurity Forum – CYBERSEC – and the initiator of the conference. She constantly collaborates with the Kościuszko Institute as an expert on cyber security. A collaborator of a research team at the Center of Cybersecurity and International Relations Studies at the University of Florence. In 2016-2017, she was a member of a Team for cyberspace security of the Republic of Poland, operating from the National Security Bureau. Author of numerous publications, reports, analyses and expert commentaries from the field of a widely understood security, information war, cyber security. In 2016, she was chosen to take part in the International Visitor Leadership Program – Cybersecurity and Government Interoperability – organized by the Department of State. In 2017, she was put on a prestigious list – New Europe 100 Challengers 2017 – created by the ‘’Financial Times,’’ ‘’Res Publica,’’ Google and International Visegrad Fund.

Please click the link to learn more about the events at CYBERSEC CEE (29-30.10) in Katowice.

Sztucznainteligencja.org.pl web portal has media patronage over the CYBERSEC CEE conference.

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