A (global) solution for cybercrime

The recent ransomware cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline in the US has exposed how vulnerable critical infrastructure is to hackers, whether they are motivated by money or politics. What can we do about this?

Part of the way forward is acknowledging that there is no longer a distinction between cyber and physical security. The world runs on tech, so people are right to worry about it, Microsoft President Brad Smith said during a livestream discussion on cybersecurity hosted by GZERO Media and Microsoft. The conversation, "Beyond SolarWinds: Securing Cyberspace," held in collaboration with the Munich Security Conference as part of their "Road to Munich" series, was moderated by former US Homeland Security senior official Juliette Kayyem.

The latest attack is different in scale, but not new. And one of the reasons these hacks are likely to become more frequent, he added, is that our defenses are not keeping up with the threats.

Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media, agreed. Cybersecurity, he explained, is a top risk because there is new tech and no architecture to stop cybercriminals. Moreover, the US relations with the two other countries with similar cyber-offensive capabilities — China and Russia — are at their worst point in decades, with no chance of a reset anytime soon.

Two months before the Colonial Pipeline hack, the cybersecurity buzz was all about SolarWinds, another major cyberattack on thousands of firms, including US government agencies, blamed on Russia. Smith said that SolarWinds showed how sophisticated hackers have become, and Wilson Center President Emerita Jane Harman added that the US bungled its response because a private firm found out before anyone else.

The silver lining from both attacks, Harman noted, is that they pushed the Biden administration to issue an executive order that mandates private corporations to immediately inform the government of such cyberattacks.

Meanwhile, the US needs to rethink its military procurement. For Ian Bremmer, the Pentagon spends a lot on tech to upgrade legacy hardware, but nowhere near enough on cyber — the opposite of what China's doing. That's right, Harman noted, but the DOD and Congress will likely push back.

The wider problem, however, is that we now live in the world where governments are not solely responsible for defending our critical infrastructure, Smith said. How the private sector responds is equally important.

Biden's executive order, he added, is no panacea but it is the most significant step forward in decades because it mandates companies that do business with the federal government to take this issue a lot more seriously. And that'll influence how software is developed across America because the federal government contracts out so much of its IT work.

More broadly, the chances of a more sustainable solution to the problem lie in more international cooperation, said Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference.

Although governments no longer have the monopoly on power to do harm to each other, the US should still reach out to its allies to fight cybercrime together. This may sound like a dream right now, he admitted, but then again so did nuclear disarmament at the height of the Cold War.

For Smith, who has long called for a Cyber Geneva Convention to set global norms, the reasons now are the same as in the aftermath of World War II: we have a moral and legal responsibility to protect civilians, who are ultimately the most vulnerable to the consequences of cyberattacks.

"Beyond SolarWinds: Securing Cyberspace," a Global Stage live conversation on cyber challenges facing governments, companies, and citizens, was recorded on May 18, 2021, and was held in collaboration with the Munich Security Conference as part of their "Road to Munich" series. Sign up for alerts about more upcoming GZERO events.

More from Global Stage

Highlights from Davos 2022

World leaders gathered this week in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum at a moment of heightened global uncertainty. Three months into the Russian war in Ukraine, the conflict seems no closer to resolution. A global food crisis — made worse by the war — is putting more than a billion people at risk of food insecurity. Meanwhile, cyberattacks and misinformation continue to wreak havoc around the globe. The world faces many dangerous challenges, but the biggest one may be this: “you can’t solve a problem unless you agree on what the problem is,” says GZERO’s Ian Bremmer.

The yet-unseen consequences of Russia's war in Ukraine

World leaders attending the 2022 World Economic Forum in Davos know there's a crisis going on — but Ian Bremmer thinks they are still unaware of the first- and second-order consequences of Russia's war in Ukraine. First, "people are mostly thinking about this as a war inside Ukraine. It's not a war in Ukraine. It's actually a war between Russia and NATO," the president of GZERO Media said Global Stage livestream conversation hosted by GZERO in partnership with Microsoft.

Moisés Naim: With inflation & low trust in democracy, Latin America faces perfect storm for nasty politics

How much power does the World Economic Forum in Davos still have? For Moisés Naim. distinguished fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, not much, and this year's leitmotif is confusion, he tells Ian Bremmer in a Global Stage interview. And what about Latin America's future? He sees a"very dangerous convergence of inflation and disappointment with democracy that could result in "a perfect storm to create nasty politics" in the region.

Wolfgang Ischinger: Ukraine made German foreign policy go "out the window"

For Wolfgang Ischinger, former chair of the Munich Security Conference, the state of transatlantic relations is in good shape right now, although whether we'll have the stamina to stay on course is uncertain. In a Global Stage interview with Ian Bremmer, he seems more worried about American war fatigue than the Europeans — although the EU has Viktor Orbán and it's hard for Germany to cut off Russian gas. One lesson Ischinger has learned from the current crisis is that Europe must have America's back on China, especially with Taiwan. And he calls German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's recent foreign policy U-turns as "going out the window."

In a food crisis, export controls are "worst possible" thing to do, says UN Foundation chief

The war in Ukraine has aggravated a global food crisis that started with the pandemic. Is there anything we can do about it? The UN is trying, but there needs to be a much more ambitious response to what is already a catastrophic humanitarian crisis, UN Foundation President Elizabeth Cousens said during a Global Stage livestream discussion hosted by GZERO in partnership with Microsoft at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Gillian Tett: Ukraine knows how to get what it wants from the West

The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, is not known for big outbursts of human emotion. But this year, the Ukrainian delegation got a standing ovation from the usual crowd of global business leaders. Gillian Tett, US editor-at-large and chair of the Financial Times board, met with the Ukrainians and shares her perspective with Ian Bremmer in a Global Stage interview.

Digital Equity