RUSI recently hosted a webinar on the topical subject of Cyber, Technology and Geopolitics. Conrad Prince, RUSI Distinguished Fellow and previously Director General for Operations at GCHQ, interviewed Dr Ben Buchanan, Director of the Cyber AI Project at Georgetown University’s Centre for Security and Emerging Technology in a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion.
Key threads that emerged included the geopolitical drivers that are influencing cyberspace and the use of signalling versus shaping in daily cyber operations, operations that are now a fundamental tool of statecraft. Also discussed was the balance of responsibility between the public and private sector in securing critical infrastructure, particularly pertinent given the recent Colonial Pipe ransomware attack that caused disruption to a pipeline system delivering around 45% of gas consumed by the U.S. East Coast.
Reliance acsn’s Vice-Chairman, Tarquin Folliss, asked Dr Buchanan during the follow-up discussion if a large part of our vulnerability to the disruptive consequences of cyber-attacks is a consequence of our failure to protect adequately what is critical to us?
Dr Buchanan agreed adding that:
“The bottom 98% of cyber attacks are not government’s responsibility and their message to private companies has been that they cannot wait for the government to intervene in such cases. In particular, if CNI is decentralised and privately owned, then they must secure themselves.
Government can provide ammunition to enable companies to internally secure cyber funding, seen through the U.S. National Security Advisor promoting the need for promptly applying security patches, building awareness and regulatory incentives to fix non-government essential systems. However, there will always be significant limits on what you can make the private sector do and, until those limits are changed, we may not like the consequences.”
We see those consequences on a daily basis, whether it is the disruption to key services in the US, which resulted in the announcement of a national emergency, the attempted poisoning of thousands of people in Florida or the interruption of critical medical care in Ireland. The wider cyber security risks that private companies face reflect the threats confronting the UK’s infrastructure more generally. An enduring challenge for governments is to incentivising businesses to invest in resilience and to recognise what is critical to them and society and why.
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