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The Digital Cold War: What to Expect in 2020

March 30, 2020


Is your business prepared to face the new cyber cold war threat?

This is becoming an increasingly pressing concern for many European and US businesses, as the reality of a digital cold war between the west and the east becomes clearer and clearer each day. For many, what lies ahead is a big unknown. Yet, research indicates that US adversaries like Russia and China will form a coalition to develop technologies that prove their valiance online. Now, you might ask yourself, how did it come to this?

The assault on Huawei

In 2018, China and the US locked heads in a bitter trade battle that only got worse when efforts were launched to limit or prohibit collaboration between a range of western nations. The first contender as a key global supplier in 5G mobile communications: Huawei. This was enough to split the world in two.

As Ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt said

I think the most likely scenario now is not a splintering, but rather a bifurcation into a Chinese-led internet and a non-Chinese internet led by America. [source]

Yet, despite the efforts made by the US to pull the plug on Huawei, last year, forty countries signed contracts with this global supplier, including Mexico, Chile, Cuba, Thailand, and Russia. While most of the countries that show support for Huawei are European, major US allies and trade partners decided to side with the 5G provider as well. More recently, the United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson approved the limited use of Huawei technology in the country’s 5G and telecom infrastructure. [source]

This resulted in fractured geopolitical relationships between pro and anti-Huawei countries, and now, the race to assert technological dominance has begun. This means new regulatory battles and smart technology espionage. It’s safe to assume that the number of zero-day exploits, distributed denial-of-service, and advanced persistent threats will increase exponentially as countries are expected to outsource cyberattacks to criminal organizations.

Utility companies are predicted to suffer the most, as they will be targeted by adversaries in an attempt to disrupt power services and water distribution, thus potentially causing civil disorder and disturbances. However, healthcare, government, educational, technology, and financial institutions will be targeted as well.

Your business: alone on the battlefield

But what about your business? What should you be worried about the most? Since protecting your interests and that of the citizens you work with will fall squarely on your shoulders, your top concern should be to secure your company before conflicts escalate between the west and the east. Unfortunately, in cyber warfare, privately-held organizations have to defend themselves against well-funded nation-states and proxy groups—on their own.

Companies that haven’t updated and patched their security systems yet will have to catch up and implement the latest solutions. They will also have to continuously monitor not only their own security posture but also that of the third parties they work with. It goes without saying, but this practice is the only way to ensure that potential vulnerabilities and threat actors can be identified and mitigated before cybercriminals have a chance to exploit and control data networks.

Data is vital. The data you use for targeted advertising or deep learning algorithms is at risk. Because it’s now sought after by both cybercriminals and cyberspies, governments are making efforts to keep data within closed borders and request access to it for national security purposes. For example, the Chinese government can request its companies to hand it over and privately-held companies must oblige. Likewise, Thailand’s new Personal Data Protection Act enables the government to seize data and electronic equipment without a court order in the interest of national security. Many other countries are currently undertaking the endeavor of implementing legislative measures that prevent the flow of data and information outside the country as well.

Final thoughts

Technology has already been evolving at a rapid pace. But now, the tug of a digital cold war propels technological advancement even further. This creates complex cybersecurity challenges that may very well prove unmanageable in the face of traditional and present security solutions.

To secure your future in the advent of a full-blown digital war, you must ensure that you are positively ready, resilient, and responsive to the challenges waiting on the horizon.