Digital security experts are calling the substantial increase in cyberattacks a “pandemic of a different variety.” Since the coronavirus public health crisis paralyzed the global economy, unscrupulous individuals and outfits have enhanced their operations, shutting down large corporations and critical sectors in the United States and other advanced economies. Colonial, JBS, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter are some of the top names that have fallen victim to infiltrations this year. Now that countries have labeled this a national security threat, will allies and foes unite to fight against cyberhacking? Geopolitical disputes and distrust might be the barriers to reining in these menaces.
The Kabuki Dance?
Shortly before departing from the G7 summit, President Joe Biden reaffirmed the group’s commitment to working together on a broad array of issues, including cybersecurity:
“And we’ve agreed that we’re going to work together to address cyber threats from state and non-state actors like criminal ransomware networks, and hold … countries accountable that harbor criminal ransomware actors who don’t hold them accountable.”
The renewed partnership will be etched into the revitalized 80-year-old Atlantic Charter. World leaders call it “a new era of cooperation” and a “turning point” in the war on cybercriminals.
In 2015, the U.N. Group of Governmental Experts on Advancing Responsible State Behavior in Cyberspace established an agreement that offered guidelines on cyber conduct. Essentially, the United States, Russia, and 23 other nations agreed that countries should not hack each other’s vital infrastructure during peacetime. They also concurred to not offering shelter for cybercriminals who unleash attacks on other states. These parties reiterated their commitment to the framework, but have they kept their word over the last couple of years?
It is the international community’s dirty secret that some of these powers have violated the provisions in the agreement, leaving many skeptical about the framework’s efficacy. Experts believe that unless more severe consequences occur, cyberattacks will not relent.
Reportedly, Russia is the most consequential violator of cybersecurity rules, especially when it comes to harboring hackers who have executed ransomware attacks against the United States. This includes the ones against Colonial Pipeline, which shut down the nation’s biggest refined fuel pipeline, and the world’s largest meat processor. It may not be the Kremlin, but the breaches emanate from Moscow, and this is triggering headaches for U.S. government officials.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement:
“Ransomware attacks against critical infrastructure are of an even higher order of magnitude of concern for us. We do not judge that the Russian government has been behind these recent ransomware attacks, but we do judge that actors in Russia have. And we believe that Russia can take and must take steps to deal with it.”
How will President Joe Biden broach the subject when he meets President Vladimir Putin during his European trip? So far, White House representatives have lowered their expectations that anything fruitful or substantive will come out of the Washington-Moscow conference. If so, some pundits assert that it will be challenging to hold Russia and other countries, like China, accountable for breaching global norms within the cyberspace realm.
The State Department developed a so-called cyber-deterrent playbook that contained consequences for digital adversaries, such as economic sanctions, indictments, and coordinated naming and shaming. Whether this is the beginning of new efforts or the deployment of additional punishments remains to be seen. Either way, industry analysts aver that more needs to be done.
Will Bitcoin Be the Fall Guy?
While officials have yet to point to the cryptocurrency sector, digital security professionals purport that bitcoin and its crypto rivals have made it easier for cybercriminals to prey on their victims and get paid for their illicit activities. This, as well as concerns about tax evasion and the carbon footprint of mining, could be the impetus necessary to crack down on something that threatens the fiat system. However, hackers might eventually search for alternative payment methods since a recent Justice Department confirmed that it had traced 63.7 of the 75 bitcoins that Colonial paid to a criminal cybergroup known as DarkSide. It has long been stated that bitcoin is not as anonymous as many people think, potentially forcing these organizations to turn to other assets in the future.
What Is the Future of Cybersecurity?
It is estimated that cybercrime will soar to $6 trillion by the end of the year as incidents take place every 11 seconds. Governments, corporations, non-profit organizations, and schools are investing enormous sums of money in their digital infrastructure. Despite these investments, cybersecurity remains erratic, unpredictable, and costly, particularly since hackers utilize the latest tricks for their attacks, like malware variants. Strong foundations, enhanced human training, and preparedness and response frameworks will eventually become standard practice at each level of every institution. Be it unilateralism or multinational campaigns, the issue might finally be taken seriously by the pillars of power.