A collaborative approach to tackling cybersecurity around the world

In the last few editions of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks report, both cybersecurity and a lack of cooperation between nations have featured regularly. The interlinked nature of these two risks is underlined by the recent launch of the Cybersecurity Multi-Donor Trust Fund by the World Bank.

The fund has been created against a backdrop of increasing digitization of countries around the world, that while bringing numerous benefits to citizens also presents a rich hunting ground for cybercriminals who are increasingly seeing the world as their playground. For instance, recent data from Norton illustrates the surge in cybercrime activity in Afghanistan in the wake of the takeover of the country by the Taliban.

Just as the security of organizations is only as strong as the weakest point in their supply chain and the wider ecosystem, so too is the cybersecurity of states a complex and systemic challenge that requires a collaborative approach that stretches across borders.

Cybersecurity development

The Bank revealed that the fund aims to better support the cybersecurity development agenda and therefore better ensure that cybersecurity is factored into all of the projects undertaken across their global network. The fund will give particular emphasis and support to help low- and middle-income countries develop their awareness and development of cybersecurity solutions.

This will include funding maturity assessments, the provision of technical assistance, and support for developing skills and capacity for cybersecurity teams throughout nations supported by the bank. The Fund has been facilitated by donations from a number of countries, including Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, and Estonia. The Baltic country is branded as one of the most digitally advanced nations in the world, so their support for the project should come as no surprise.

“It is essential that basic cybersecurity elements are integrated into all digitalization projects in development cooperation,” Mari Tomingas of the Cyber Diplomacy Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia says. “As a highly developed digital nation, we continue to share our expertise, and we are very happy about the launch of the new associated trust fund.”

Collective capacity

There is a consensus among the donor nations that more cybersecurity capacity is needed, especially in low- and middle-income nations so that they gain collective resilience against cyberattacks while continuing the kind of digital transformation that is going to be so important to their overall wellbeing and prosperity.

What’s more, supports of the Fund highlight how the international community is itself more stable and secure when the weaker members of it can be supported in their cybersecurity development so that they are better able to defend their own digital infrastructure.

The collective and interconnected nature of the modern world means that cybersecurity should be central to any conversation around development, with the importance growing as countries become more digitally dependent. Whether attackers deploy ransomware or botnets, malware or phishing, they have the capability to bring a nation to its knees if defenses are not robust and resilient. Just as hackers are willing to share (or at least sell) vulnerabilities on the dark web, so too must nations support one another.

"It's really important that we share what is work and what isn't," Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas told me recently.

Digital transformation

Digital transformation is increasingly important to the development agenda, with opportunities being presented for low- and middle-income countries to leapfrog development stages in areas such as health, education, and agriculture. Digital technology has also been crucial in the fight against COVID-19, thus underlining the crucial role it can play in economic development today.

This development comes with notable risks, however, with various high-profile cyberattacks in western nations illustrating the vulnerability of increasingly connected infrastructure. These attacks are capable of causing considerable damage to both the financial and human wellbeing of a nation, and the rapacious attacks on Afghanistan show ample willingness to strike against any vulnerable nation.

Such attacks can not only disrupt vital public services but can weaken national security, result in crucial data being compromised, and in extreme cases even the loss of life. With data highlighting the surge in cybercrime during COVID, the importance of ensuring nations are secure has not been greater, but becoming resilient is no small undertaking, especially against a global backdrop of skills shortages in the sector.

"Both cybersecurity and information security know no state borders, and if you have neighbors with different understandings of the threats they face, then it's difficult to make progress," Siim Kumpas, Strategic Communication Advisor to the Estonian Government Office, says. "States are at different levels of maturity, so we have to try and have a rising tide of competence lift all boats."

By providing not just financial support but backing in areas such as skills development and capacity building, the Fund will go a long way towards ensuring that these digital transformation efforts aren’t undermined by insufficient cybersecurity and help them to work towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

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