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Emerging International Threat Issues: Discussion from the Fourth Cybersecurity and Technology Futures Event

July 3, 2019


Zhiqin Gao

This event was the fourth in a series of events. The first focused on privacy. The second focused on systemic risk. The third tackled questions around Artificial Intelligence (AI). The next one will focus on State and Homeland Security. It will be on May 1 at 3pm in the Peterson Room in the Allen Library on the UW campus. The full schedule can be found here.

The diffusion of power and the rapid technological advancement in cyberspace pose global security challenges in an increasingly interdependent world. For the fourth talk in the Cybersecurity and Technology Futures series, experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the University of Washington gathered on Wednesday, April 3 to discuss international threats in cyberspace with Dr. Sara Curran, Jackson School Professor, as the moderator. Katy Pearce, Jing de Jong-Chen, and Jessica Beyer discussed cybersecurity risks to both the public and private sectors and put forward respective policy proposals for actors involved in the tech industry.

Dr. Katy Pearce is an Associate Professor at the Department of Communication at the University of Washington and an affiliate of the Ellison Center for Russian East European, and Central Asian Studies. In her remarks about meeting cybersecurity challenges, Dr. Pearce proposed strengthening regulations and invited people to think about how to create policies that make sense in a global environment. Drawing from her research on former Soviet states, Dr. Pearce pointed out that the blurry line and cooperation between quasi-state actors and formal state actors made attribution and legislative sanctions fairly difficult. Meanwhile, she argued that powerful corporations are equally important players in the field and new cybersecurity concerns such as AI and blockchain have potential global impacts as well as impacts on people’s everyday lives.

Jing de Jong-Chen is a Senior Associate at CSIS and the founder and CEO of CrossAvenue International. She examined international cybersecurity threats from three perspectives: technology, technology policies, and global competition and risks. On the technological front, Ms. Jong-Chen pointed out that there are security flaws in AI processes. In both data collection and data analysis processes, data security can be potentially compromised. In relation to programming, anything concerning the human life, such as applications for medical research, often lack adequate cybersecurity protection as well. Devices, on the other hand, entail their own security risks in the updating process and the supply chain. On the side of global competition, state-sponsored attacks are a major concern. But, given the gap between policymakers and the rapid advancement in cyber technologies, Ms. Jong-Chen argued that the question of how to develop long-term policies or legislation should be a major concern for the future. For the public sector, Ms. Jong-Chen posed the question of how to enable competition, innovation, and collaboration while still raising the bar for global cybersecurity. Finally, she asked for more participation and deeper integration of all stakeholders involved in the cybersecurity issues.

Dr. Jessica Beyer is a Lecturer in the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. Acknowledging the broad scope of cybersecurity threats, Dr. Beyer focused her remarks on the proliferation of offensive cyber programs among nation-states. She noted that state actors exploit vulnerabilities in software for surveillance or espionage. She argued that states find this strategy attractive because offensive cyber programs are cost-effective.  Additionally, cyberattacks are difficult to attribute, making it an effective way to evade retaliation. As more medium and small sized countries take advantage of the perceived benefits of offensive programs, major actors such as the US, China, and Russia kept expanding their offensive capabilities. In the end, Dr. Beyer noted that this meant that growing global instability was increasing as the potential risk of conflict escalation increases, but it also makes everyone more vulnerable because these offensive weapons are built on the products that normal people use.

The talk was the fourth in a series of talks on Cybersecurity and Technology Futures. The next talk is on May 1, 2019 at 3pm in the University of Washington’s Allen Library’s Peterson Room. The speakers include: Barrett Adams-Simmons, Regional Sector Outreach Coordinator, Department of Homeland Security; Ann Lesperance, Director Northwest Regional Technology Center, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; The Honorable Gael Tarleton, Washington State House of Representatives. Jackson School Professor Sara Curran will moderate.

The speaker series is sponsored by the University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies, Information School, and Women’s Center with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

This event and publication were made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.