Digital Peace

With the world more online and interconnected than ever before, risks are proliferating. How can we achieve digital peace?

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Three years ago, long before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19, a different kind of virus spread around the world: a piece of malicious software code launched by a nation state. It paralyzed computer networks in hundreds of countries, disrupted global shipping, forced pharmaceutical factories to shut down, and inflicted an estimated $10 billion of economic damage.

On the physical battlefield, a widely accepted set of rules, backed by international law, governs conduct, with the aim of protecting soldiers and civilians. Establishing common rules or guardrails is much harder in cyberspace, where borders can't be easily defined and the tools and tactics of combat are always changing. But it has never been more urgent.

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As the UN turns 75, GZERO Media, Eurasia Group and Microsoft have teamed up to bring you a look at some of the most pressing global issues of the 21st Century. Here's a short look at a battlefield that has no borders—cyberspace, and efforts to create a safer digital world.

Marietje Schaake, former member of EU Parliament and international policy director of the Cyber Policy Center at Stanford University, discusses the role of cyberspace and the urgency to protect it in UNGA In 60 Seconds.

Protecting people in cyberspace is of vital importance for the United Nations. Secretary General Guterres has said that cyber is shaping history, but that we also risk that it's slipping away from us. What does that mean, exactly?

Well if you ask me, technology has shaped history. But more than anything, it's shaping the future. And I see a unique and urgent role for the United Nations in making sure that the public interest is defended. Anything from governing for public health, for public safety, and of course, for peace in cyberspace.

Now the question is, how has the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated some of these questions?

Our October 14th livestream discussion, "Digital Peace: Trust and Security in Cyberspace," presented by GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group - focused on the need for a global framework to govern cyberspace.

The panel was moderated by Meredith Sumpter, CEO of the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism, and included:

  • Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director, Cyber Policy Center, Stanford University
  • Marina Kaljurand, Member, European Parliament; Former Chair, Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace; Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia
  • Tom Burt, Corporate Vice President, Customer Security & Trust, Microsoft
  • Dapo Akande, Professor of Public International Law, University of Oxford

A major theme that emerged from the discussion is how the healthcare sector has become more vulnerable to cyberattacks due to the pandemic. But this sector also poses a major opportunity for governments and other actors to work together on protecting the world from such attacks — with huge resources already being mobilized to do so.

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One of the biggest threats to 21st century international peace is invisible. It recognizes no borders and knows no rules. It can penetrate everything from the secrets of your government to the settings of your appliances. This is, of course, the threat of cyberattacks and cyberwarfare.

During the coronavirus pandemic, cyberattacks have surged, according to watchdogs. This isn't just Zoom-bombing or scams. It's also a wave of schemes, likely by national intelligence agencies, meant to steal information about the development and production of vaccines. Attacks on the World Health Organization soared five-fold early in the pandemic.

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While governments around the world race to develop a coronavirus vaccine, intelligence services and criminal organizations see an opportunity: to steal vaccine research, keep tabs on the competition, or hold critical information for ransom. The vaccine manufacturing process involves a wide group of public and private organizations that have access to sensitive vaccine and manufacturing details as well as the personal information of trial participants. In addition to the risks of stolen intellectual property or personal information, hacks could also delay or derail elements of the quest for a viable vaccine. Here's a look at what hackers are after at each stage of the vaccine development process.

The United Nations has been working for over a decade on a global framework to govern cyberspace. But will it ever happen if global powers benefit from having no rules for cyber war? Find out in a livestream discussion, "Digital Peace: Trust and Security in Cyberspace," presented by GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — on Wednesday, October 14 at 11a ET/8a PT/4p BST.

Watch our UNGA livestream events at https://www.gzeromedia.com/unga/livestream. (No registration required.)

Meredith Sumpter, CEO of the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism, will moderate the panel, which includes:

  • Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director, Cyber Policy Center, Stanford University
  • Marina Kaljurand, Member, European Parliament; Former Chair, Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace; Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia
  • Tom Burt, Corporate Vice President, Customer Security & Trust, Microsoft
  • Dapo Akande, Professor of Public International Law, University of Oxford
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Microsoft's President Brad Smith and Ian Bremmer discussed the impact of disinformation campaigns—both domestic and foreign--on the US democracy. The use of fake stories is creating polarization and an ill-informed public, they agreed. In discussing the impact of Russian interference in US politics, Smith said, "In all of the years of the Soviet Union, did the Soviet Air Force ever develop an aircraft that did as much damage to the United States as Russian disinformation campaigns have done through social media over the last four years? I would argue that the answer is no."

Watch more: Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

GZERO, Microsoft & Eurasia Group @ UN General Assembly 2020
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UNGA at 75: A unique UNGA for a post-pandemic UN

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The annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the world's largest diplomatic event, normally entails leaders and representatives from the 193 UN member states descending upon New York for a full week of speeches, high-stakes meetings between governments, and street protests. UNGA has also had its share of surprising moments, like Soviet premier Nikita Kruschev (allegedly) banging his shoe on the desk, or Venezuela's Hugo Chávez suggesting that US President George W. Bush was the devil himself.

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