International Event: IAS Symposium Keynote Lunch on Cyber Security

The IAS Symposium keynote speaker for the lunch was Ron Diebert. His presentation was over the Toronto-based Citizen Lab’s experiences with targeted digital attacks on civil society. He brought up a few case studies that highlighted Citizens Lab successful prevention of security breaches in people’s phones for example. Ahmed from the UAE, was targeted using a text message by the NSO, a foreign company that only sold their technology to governments only. Luckily, Ahmed forwarded it on to the Citizen Lab who then determined it was malicious and could have access to nearly everything, from Ahmed’s web searches to his whereabouts.

I assumed there was intelligence out there and a cyberwarfare going on, but the presentation confirmed this and provided a few more insights. For example, China gifted the African Union with a building but hid microphones in it. While this doesn’t mean China intended harm, it certainly shows that they want to keep tabs on other political entities that concern them. The coexistence of privacy and technology seems to be heading down a grim path.

One of the main things that kept popping into my head throughout the presentation was ‘What’s the point of even upping the security’? To me, the cyber security crisis seems exactly like the Security Dilemma discussed in class. One side bumps up their security and the other feels threatened so they in turn bump up theirs. It’s an endless cycle that eventually results in both sides developing weapons with incredible destructive potential. In this case, the weapon is digital technology. Every time cybersecurity is bumped up, hackers develop new ways and advances to get past the security so the cybersecurity gets bumped up again. While the defensive side seeks to protect people, if the intelligence somehow finds its way to the other side there will be counterproductive consequences. Personally, I find it not a far-fetched idea that technology would escalate on both sides to a point where the all of our technological systems from traffic lights to satellites, the internet, any radio connections, etc. can be infected with a virus with the click of a button and our society spirals into chaos because of our dependency on 1s and 0s.

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