May 28, 2024No Comments

Beyond Influence: The call for strategic defence in light of China’s interference in Canada

Author: Sandra Watson Parcels – China & Asia Team

The Interim Report

Canada is currently facing a critical moment in its history as it grapples with the urgent need to protect its democratic processes and national security from foreign interference. The release of the Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions on May 3rd has prompted focus on this issue. Over the past five years, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has reported on the increasing international activity of the People's Republic of China (PRC), including efforts directed at democratic institutions, government bodies, and communities in various sectors. The interim report clarifies: "Foreign interference is not done by just one country. However, China currently stands out as the most persistent and sophisticated foreign interference threat to Canada."

Chapter four of the interim report examines China's use of foreign interference tactics, highlighting intelligence data suggesting extensive use of these methods to advance its interests. The chapter details a range of interference activities targeting various entities in Canada, including government officials, political organisations, political candidates, and diaspora communities. CSIS identifies China as a significant challenge to Canada's electoral integrity.

The report focuses on the activities of the United Front Work Department (UFWD), a key entity of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with a substantial budget. The UFWD plays a central role in China's foreign interference efforts,focusing on influencing the Chinese diaspora, shaping public opinion, and persuading politicians to support China's policies. It specifically targets individuals with status or influence, such as community leaders, academics, elected officials, and media members. The report describes the UFWD as employing a long-term strategy that utilises both overt and covert methods to cultivate and strengthen relationships over time.

The scope and scale of China's activities in the Canadian elections of 2019 and 2021 are reported to be more extensive than those of any other state, impacting not only federal but also local officials and indigenous communities. The report indicates the UFWD's activities blur the lines between foreign influence and foreign interference. It details clandestine,deceptive, and threatening activity around the world, often by leveraging influence and exerting control over some diaspora communities. Other PRC state institutions involved in foreign interference activities include the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Public Security, both of which reportedly operate covertly internationally and remotely from the PRC.

Canada's Reaction

This backdrop underscores Canada's urgency in strengthening its defences against foreign interference across all fronts. Canada recognises the evolving nature of these threats and the imperative to safeguard its sovereignty and interests. While the inquiry into foreign interference represents a significant step forward in Canada's response, whether the issue has been considered with enough timeliness and decisiveness still needs to be addressed. Conservative foreign affairs critic and MP Michael Chong stated that the report is a “damning set of conclusions and findings” and that it “contradicts much of what the government has told us over that period of time.”  New Democratic Party MP Jenny Kwan said there was a “systemic failure of communications by the government to those who are targeted or impacted by foreign interference.” 

The interim report provides a sobering glimpse into the extent of foreign meddling in Canadian affairs, with particular emphasis on activities surrounding recent federal elections. In response to these revelations, the Canadian government is addressing the issue through new legislation, such as Bill C-70, introduced on May 6th, which aims to update existing laws and improve Canada’s capacity to detect, disrupt, and defend against foreign interference. Additionally, the Canadian government's allocation of funds for establishing a National Counter-Foreign Interference Office underscores the seriousness with which Canada regards this issue.

China's Response

China has strongly rejected the allegations of foreign interference. On May 8th, the state-run Global Times published two articles on the subject. 

The first article criticised Canada's efforts to address foreign interference, describing it as "The so-called China's foreign interference is nothing but a lie to serve political purposes and a drama directed and performed by Canada itself." The preliminary report raises doubts about its validity, reflecting a broader trend in some Western states to attribute electoral outcomes to external influences. The article also accused Canada of interfering in China's domestic affairs. The paper also raised concerns about Canada's actions, suggesting they might hinder positive relations. It stated, "Canada's approach risks harming its relationship with China by aligning itself with US criticisms. We urge Canada to act objectively and avoid being misled by unsubstantiated reports."

The second article focused on Canada's introduction of draft legislation to counter foreign interference. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian was quoted saying, "China has never and will never have any interest in interfering in Canada's internal affairs," dismissing claims of foreign interference as politically motivated lies. A Chinese academic commented, "The introduction of the new law based on groundless accusations of Chinese interference in Canada's elections is once again the country's attempt to fuel unfriendliness and hostility toward China domestically and internationally." The article also mentioned that Canada's new draft legislation is driven by domestic political motives, with the opposition party pushing for tougher policies towards China to challenge Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau's leadership.

China's Grand Strategy

Despite China’s reaction, China's growing global influence and its strategic aspirations are a subject of extensive international discussion. It manifests through a multifaceted approach to enhance its global influence and secure strategic advantages. Politically, concerns exist regarding its role in other countries' elections, particularly through the United Front Work Department (UFWD). Allegations of such interference have surfaced in Canada, the US and Australia. Militarily, China's activities in the East and South China Seas create tensions with neighbouring states. These activities are challenging established international maritime norms, and contravening international laws and norms. Economically, the Belt and Road Initiative extends its reach across continents, fostering dependencies through infrastructure while facing criticisms of potentially resembling neo-colonialism practices. This economic outreach often seems to often complement its military ambitions, as infrastructure projects can double as strategic military footholds. Domestically, China's human rights record, particularly in Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang, is under international scrutiny. Issues surrounding limitations on freedoms are a source of international concern. In cyberspace, its strategic operations involve sophisticated espionage and potential disruptions of global infrastructure, raising international alarms over cyber warfare. China's cultural diplomacy and media expansion aim to shape global perceptions and address Western influence. These efforts can be seen as attempts to manage international reactions to its policies. Collectively, these strategies reinforce China's position on the global stage and intricately interlink to influence its relationships with major world powers, crafting a complex web of influence and control.

Source: Image created by the author.

China's Strategy in Canada

China's approach in Canada shares similarities with its broader strategies internationally. Both utilise a multifaceted approach to cultivate influence and achieve strategic goals. In line with its global political ambitions, China's engagement through the UFWD with Chinese diaspora communities raises questions about potential influence on domestic politics and public opinion. This comprehensive strategy presents significant challenges to Canadian sovereignty, security, and economic interests.

In the economic and technological spheres, China's tactics include cyber espionage and strategic investments in critical sectors, raising Canada's national security concerns. Notable incidents like the Microsoft Exchange server attacks have targeted essential Canadian infrastructure, undermining data security and intellectual property. Moreover, strategic investments in sectors such as natural resources and ports might be seen as signs of China's efforts to extend its geopolitical influence within Canada, mirroring its global economic outreach.

The involvement of Chinese companies like Huawei in Canada's 5G network raised concerns about data security vulnerabilities, prompting Canada to implement restrictive measures to protect its telecommunications infrastructure. Concurrently, Chinese investments in Canadian real estate and potential political influence attempts require careful monitoring.

In the areas of soft power and cultural influence, the presence of Confucius Institutes within Canadian universities raises questions about the promotion of a selective view of Chinese culture, potentially impacting academic freedoms and shaping public perception. These institutes, alongside other UFWD activities within diaspora communities, shape Canada’s political landscape to align with China’s interests. Surveillance efforts, such as monitoring the Chinese diaspora through organisations like the Chinese Students and Scholars Associations (CSSAs), complement China's control operations within Canada.

In response, Canada has taken steps to address these concerns, including updates to legislation, enhanced cybersecurity measures, and the establishment of a National Counter-Foreign Interference Office.

Canada…Moving Forward

As Canada navigates this complex landscape, vigilance in defending its democratic institutions and national interests is paramount. Public Safety Canada has affirmed, "The Government of Canada takes the threat posed by foreign interference seriously and has various tools and mechanisms in place to protect individuals and Canada's interests." CSIS’s recent annual report states, "the PRC’s negative perceptions of select Canadian domestic and foreign policy initiatives may also drive more foreign interference….in 2024.” The evolving nature of these challenges demands comprehensive and multifaceted tactics, which include legislative measures, diplomatic engagement, and international cooperation. By addressing these challenges proactively, Canada will not only be upholding the integrity of its democratic processes but also asserting its sovereignty against external pressures. Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly stated, “As with past crises, multilateralism and diplomacy offer our best hope for maintaining peace and stability.”  While Canada must take decisive actions to counter interference and protect its sovereignty, it should also engage in diplomatic efforts with other states, including China, to address the issue of interference. This balanced approach combines responses to interference with diplomatic engagement where possible. Strengthening alliances with Five Eyes and other global partners, specifically in the Indo-Pacific, is crucial for effectively confronting and mitigating these risks. As these strategies continue to evolve, transparency, accountability, and community engagement are pivotal to ensure that Canadians are protected and that the democratic framework remains resilient against the covert and disruptive tactics of foreign actors. By strengthening its defences and adopting a proactive stance, Canada safeguards its sovereignty and contributes to the broader global effort to preserve democratic values and institutions, consequently enhancing stability in the world order.

Check out another China & Asia Team article on China’s Belt and Road in the Maldives by Carlotta Rinaudo.

March 21, 2023No Comments

Vladimir Radunovic and Anastasia Kazakova on Cyber Diplomacy

Vladimir Radunovic and Anastasia Kazakova talk about cyber diplomacy, the geopolitics of cyberspace, and the roles of state and non-state actors.

Vladimir Radunovic is Director, E-diplomacy and Cybersecurity Programmes, and Anastasia Kazakova is a Cyber Diplomacy Knowledge Fellow at DiploFoundation. This Swiss-Maltese non-governmental organisation specialises in capacity development in the field of Internet governance and digital policy.

Interviewer: Oleg Abdurashitov - Cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence and Space Team.

March 2, 2023No Comments

Cybersecurity: the Nexus Between Public and Private Sector

For the third Webinar of the 2022/2023 season, we had the pleasure to host three top experts in the field of Cybersecurity: Luca Nicoletti from the Italian National Cybersecurity Agency, Andrea Rigoni from Deloitte, and Antonello Vitale, a former Executive of the Italian Intelligence Community.

These experts explored the complex relationship between the public and the private sector in the context of cybersecurity - a relationship with countless challenges as well as opportunities. The event was chaired by our very own Martina Gambacorta, a member and researcher of the ITSS team.

June 8, 2022No Comments

Italy’s cybersecurity response to Russian attacks (Italiano)

Author: Sarah Toubman

In the past few years, the Italian government has rapidly increased both the pace and number of steps taken to protect its national cybersecurity interests. Italy began creating legislation and organizations for the defense of its cybersecurity infrastructure in 1993, but many observers have criticized developments in Italian cybersecurity as inadequate and slow-moving compared to its peers in Europe and beyond. However, in June 2021, the Italian government declared its intention to create a new national agency for cybersecurity, and just weeks ago, released a national cybersecurity policy for 2022-2026.

The Italian government’s increased attention to cybersecurity has come just in time, as several prominent cyberattacks against Italy by Russian hackers occurred this May. Considering Italy and the European Union’s support for Ukraine in its war against Russia, it is not surprising that Russian-backed agents have unleashed attacks on Italy in the cybersphere, a space the Kremlin has long operated in. For example, during the 2008 Ruso-Georgian war, Russian-backed hackers reportedly carried out cyberattacks against Georgian internet infrastructure.

More recently, this cyber aggression has been turned towards both state and private cyberinfrastructure in Italy. On May 10th, Russian hacker groups “Killnet” and “Legion” attempted to break into and modify the voting results for the Eurovision Song Contest, which Italy hosted and Ukraine ultimately won. However, thanks to the Italian Computer Security Incident Response Team, which was created in 2018, the attempt was foiled. 

Similarly, just one day later on May 11th, “‘Killnet’ claimed an attack on the websites of several Italian institutions, including the Senate, Italy's upper house of parliament, and the National Health Institute.” On May 19th, the Russian hacking organization launched additional cyberattacks on Italian institutions, including the High Council of the Judiciary, and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Public Education, and Culture.

While Russian-backed cyber organizations are clearly enthusiastically targeting Italy, the robust responses of Italian cyber-defense organizations are now successful on a level which would have been unlikely prior to the development of its new cybersecurity agency and the rollout of its 2022-2026 cybersecurity policy. Although historically Italy has often been behind the curve in its cybersecurity policies, Mario Draghi’s push to launch the National Cybersecurity Agency was in fact extremely forward-looking and timely. Furthermore, since the agency’s announcement, Italian cybersecurity forces have developed the skills required to successfully counter Russian-backed agents, proving its creation was not merely a publicity-boosting measure for the Draghi government.

One recent headline has declared that “Italy [is] embroiled in cyber war with pro-Russian hackers.” Definitions of what constitutes cyberwarfare still vary, and the Russian government formally denies involvement with the groups of hackers conducting these attacks. However, such a headline again serves to remind those concerned with international security that Russia has historically and continues to use the cyber sphere to wage war, and therefore a robust international security policy necessarily includes cyber-defense. Therefore, in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine--the largest war seen in Europe since 1945--defensive cybersecurity capabilities are evermore important for Italy and any nation openly opposing Russian actions. 

Italy’s 2013 National Strategic Framework for Cyberspace Security and 2017 Cybersecurity Action Plan had both highlighted the need for improved public-private cooperation to ensure national cybersecurity moving forward. In fact, the 2017 plan had urged that “private entities operating in strategic sectors must be considered as key assets and included into a holistic approach to national cybersecurity that provides for the implementation of minimum security requirements for country-critical systems.” Again, such a point was forward-looking, highlighting the fact that in May 2022, Russian-backed agents did not only launch cyberattacks on Italian government organizations, but also the Eurovision Song Contest, a multinational initiative being operated out of Italy. 

Notably, under the country’s new cybersecurity policy, the Italian Computer Security Incident Response Team was successfully able to both prevent an attack against Eurovision and resolve cyber incidents related to government websites. However, moving forwards, this area merits even further attention. The Italian state could be severely impacted by cyberattacks against a whole range of websites, companies, and infrastructure, including public, private, and multinational organizations. Therefore, ensuring Italian cybersecurity going forward would require not just improved public-private cooperation, but also coordination between Italy and all interconnected sectors of the EU. 

Image Source:

Italian translation 

Negli ultimi anni, il governo italiano ha accelerato rapidamente il passo e ha compiuto progressi nella protezione dei suoi interessi nazionali nell’ambito della sicurezza cibernetica. L’Italia iniziò a legiferare e fondare organizzazioni per la difesa delle infrastrutture legate alla sicurezza cibernetica nel 1993. Da allora, molti osservatori hanno criticato gli sviluppi, ritenendoli inadeguati e lenti rispetto agli altri paesi in Europa e nel mondo. Giugno 2021 segna una tappa importante per il governo italiano, che dichiara di voler creare una nuova agenzia nazionale per la sicurezza cibernetica, e poche settimane fa, è stata pubblicata la policy per la sicurezza cibernetica nazionale 2022-2026.

L’aumento di attenzione per questo campo arriva perfettamente in tempo, quasi in concomitanza con diversi attacchi cibernetici compiuti da hacker russi contro l’Italia lo scorso Maggio. Tenendo presente il supporto dichiarato da Italia e Unione Europea per la guerra portata avanti dall’Ucraina contro la Russia, non è una sorpresa che agenti sostenuti dalla Russia stessa abbiano effettuato attacchi contro l’Italia nella sfera cyber, uno spazio in cui il Cremlino opera da tempo. Per esempio, durante la guerra tra Russia e Georgia nel 2008, la Russia ha dato supporto ad hacker per colpire le infrastrutture internet dell’avversario.

Più di recente, le aggressioni cyber sono state indirizzate contro la sfera cyber pubblica e privata dell’Italia. Il 10 Maggio, il gruppo hacker russo “Killnet” e “Legion” ha cercato di entrare e modificare i risultati dei voti dell’Eurovision Song Contest,tenutosi in Italia e vinto dall’Ucraina. Nonostante ciò, grazie al Computer Security Incident Response Team dell’Agenzia per la Cybersicurezza Nazionale, creato nel 2018, il tentativo è stato sventato.

Allo stesso modo, ad un solo giorno di distanza, “Killnet” ha rivendicato un attacco a diversi siti istituzionali italiani, incluso quello del Senato e dell’Istituto di Salute Nazionale. Il 19 Maggio, l’organizzazione russa ha lanciato ulteriori attacchi ad istituzioni italiane, inclusi il Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura, i Ministeri degli Affari Esteri, della Pubblica Istruzione e della Cultura. 

Mentre le cyber organizzazioni russe sono chiaramente entusiaste di avere l’Italia come bersaglio, le risposte robuste date dalle organizzazioni di cyber-difesa italiane hanno avuto un successo che non sarebbe stato possibile raggiungere precedentemente allo sviluppo della nuova Agenzia per la Cybersicurezza Nazionale e alla nuova policy 2022-2026. Sebbene storicamente l’Italia si è sempre trovata in ritardo rispetto ai progressi e alle policy promosse dagli altri paesi, il Presidente Mario Draghi ha insistito per fondare l’Agenzia per la Cybersicurezza Nazionale e questo ha permesso di essere estremamente lungimiranti nel garantire una risposta agli attacchi. Inoltre, dalla creazione dell’Agenzia, l’Italia ha sviluppato delle abilità notevoli e necessarie nella lotta contro gli agenti russi. 

Di recente, è stato dichiarato che “l’Italia è coinvolta in una cyber guerra con gli hacker russi.” Le definizioni di questa cyber-guerra sono ancora varie, e il governo russo ha formalmente negato il coinvolgimento dei gruppi hacker e gli attacchi condotti. Nonostante questo, la situazione al momento conferma che la sfera cyber è sempre utilizzata dalla Russia come arma contro i nemici di guerra, e perciò c’è bisogno di politiche per la sicurezza internazionale più robuste e che includano necessariamente la cyber difesa. Nella guerra tra Russia e Ucraina, la più grande guerra mai vista dopo il 1945, le capacità difensive nel campo della cybersicurezza sono ancora più significative per l’Italia e per qualunque altra nazione che voglia apertamente condannare le azioni Russe. 

La National Strategic Framework for Cyberspace Security del 2013 e il Cybersecurity Action Plan del 2017 hanno entrambi sottolineato il bisogno di migliorare la cooperazione tra pubblico e privato per assicurare una rapida evoluzione nell’ambito della cyber sicurezza nazionale. Infatti, il piano del 2017 ha evidenziato che “le entità private che operano per la cyber sicurezza nazionale lavorano per l’implementazione dei minimi standard di sicurezza richiesti per le infrastrutture critiche del paese.” Ancora una volta, questo punto di vista è lungimirante e sottolinea il fatto che a Maggio 2022, gli agenti russi non hanno solo colpito il governo italiano ma anche l’Eurovision Song Contest, un’iniziativa multinazionale che era organizzata dall’Italia. 

Il Computer Security Incident Response Team dell’Italia ha avuto successo nel prevenire l’attacco contro l’Eurovision e nel risolvere incidenti legati a siti internet del governo.

Infine, questo argomento meriterebbe ancora più attenzione. Lo stato italiano potrebbe essere severamente colpito da cyber attacchi contro siti internet, compagnie e infrastrutture, includendo il settore pubblico, privato e organizzazioni multinazionali. Per questo, garantire la cyber sicurezza del paese e svilupparla ulteriormente richiederebbe non solo un miglioramento della cooperazione tra pubblico e privato, ma anche la coordinazione tra Italia e tutti i settori interconnessi dell’Unione Europea. 

September 20, 2021No Comments

Cybersecurity and Society

The team "Culture, Society, and Security" interviews Dr. Madeline Carr, Professor of Global Politics and Cyber Security in the Faculty of Engineering Science at the University College of London and Dr. Camino Kavanagh, visiting fellow at King’s College London, and member of UN advisory support team for negotiating processes related to cyber and international security.

Interviewing Team: Julia Hodgins and Sofia Staderini

July 21, 2021No Comments

How are the U.S. Administrations dealing with Cybersecurity

By: István Hagyó and Bianca Ferrazza 


Witnessing government agencies, corporations and the military's recent shift of administration of activities to the internet, one cannot ignore the pressing concern of cybersecurity to world security. It is pertinent to discuss cybersecurity, as the contemporary world is increasingly immersed in the use of new IT technologies; humans seem to be living in cyberspace rather than in the physical one. Cybersecurity’s relevance to national security is obvious: in the era of digitalization, we are observing a lot of new threats coming from the internet and countries must act before having their weak spot detected. 

What is a cyber attack?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a cyber attack is an act aimed at the damage or the destruction of a computer network or system. More precisely, a cyber attack consists of an attempt to perform any action that might hurt a database’s security. These actions may include disabling computers, stealing data or leakage of any sensible information. 

What happens when a country or company is the victim of this attack?

The cyber domain also refers to the term “cyberspace”. According to the definition of the U.S. Department of Defense, cyberspace is “A global domain within the information environment consisting of the interdependent network of information technology infrastructures, including the internet, telecommunications networks, computer systems and embedded processors and controllers”. 

Cybersecurity’s role in the contemporary world emerges as a consequence of the internet revolution of the past decades. It is considered a practice aimed at the protection of systems (alongside that of programs and networks) from the threats of digital attacks. 

Cybersecurity aims to foil attacks at gaining access, leak or destroy sensitive information and to interfere with the normal administration of companies, government agencies and other subjects. The implementation of cybersecurity has improved in recent years, due to the growing business of high tech companies, but so have hackers. In general, one can consider a successful cybersecurity approach one that presents several layers of protection against hackers. 

The Evolution of US Cyberpower

In analysing the approach of the Biden administration in regards to cybersecurity threats, it would be interesting to look back in time and to understand what the past US administrations have done.

In 2003, the Bush Administration commissioned a document, National Strategy for Security Cyberspace, which pinned down three tactical approaches aiming to prevent cyber attacks on the country’s most important infrastructures, reduce its fragility and, in case the attack actually happens, implement efficient strategies to minimize damage. The National Strategy issued by George W. Bush also posed itself as a target to invigorate companies’ care to their cyberspace, by routinely empowering their security systems. The Bush administration also presented a huge contribution by issuing the National Infrastructure Protection Plan in 2006, which identified 17 infrastructure sectors and advanced the idea that cybersecurity’s importance derives from the fact that it can be declined in any sector and therefore does not represent a separate topic. 

The Obama Administration took a radically different approach, organizing cybersecurity with a top-down strategy by assigning the command of cybersecurity policies to the White House rather than to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). During his mandate, new legislations were passed, alongside the issuance of new policies. Chinese hackers were involved in cyber theft regarding intellectual property and trade strategies, occupying US intelligence in many inquiries. In 2015, Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping signed an agreement aimed at the cessation of commercial hacking, which resulted in a drop in the number of instances of Chinese hacking into the American commercial cyberspace. Additionally, the state department worked with international institutions and with other countries in an attempt to apply international law to the new cyber threats. The Department of Home Security enhanced its “Einstein” cyber threat prevention system; the software now is used by more than 90% of federal agencies. 

The Trump Administration, experts say, seems to have taken the country a step back on cybersecurity management. The former President fired Christopher Krebs who was the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (C.I.S.A.) since 2018 for not having supported Trump’s claims on the 2020 election fraud, a decision that was contested by most cybersecurity experts. Trump’s legacy on cybersecurity is made up of several different measurements. During his mandate he managed to confront China on cyber issues, to recognize the importance of the cyber domain in regards to the next decades in warfare. It also implemented a “Defending Forward Strategy”. This strategy enforces operations aimed at intercepting attacks before they reach the U.S. and has several implications in regards to some sectors of the economy considered vital to the country’s normal administration. The new strategy also claims to be “preparing for war”. It seems that the cyber operations will be joined with warfighters, to try and combine the two aspects of security. 

Newly-elected President Joe Biden has come up with a new executive order regarding the matter of cybersecurity, making it a priority to improve the Government’s strategy tied to the new threads proposed by the “cyber switch”.  In order to better sum up the new policies regarding the cybersecurity approach, the White House has released a fact sheet focused on the highlighting of some key aims of the executive order, some of these being the improvement of software supply chain security, the establishment of a cybersecurity safety review board and the removal of barriers to threat information sharing between borders.

U.S. Administrations vs Major adversaries

The American approach toward potential Russian cyber threats became a major debate after the accusation of Russian meddling in the 2016 American General Elections. The GRU (Russian military intelligence agency) carried out several attacks on Ukraine including two power grids and the 2017 NotPetya virus causing $10 billion worth of damage. The Baltic states are the most vulnerable and affected, while direct cyber-attacks against US international companies, governments and critical services are also very common. In 2020 alone, almost 300 million ransomware attacks were launched causing a $1 billion loss. Such an occasion was the ransomware attacks on Colonial Pipeline resulting in gas outrage of the East Coast for days.

The different interpretation of the nature of cyber conflict by both states makes the situation more complicated. The Russian government and embassy strictly denied the existence of such operations. However, several attempts were initiated by the Russian part to form a common group to counter cyber-attacks. The American part each time rejected the offer, especially during the Trump Administration, due to mistrust and fear from domestic scepticism in case of an agreement by President Trump. The Biden Administration realized, both the necessity and the lack of progress in the case. A significant result and probably the only one during the recent Biden-Putin summit in Geneva, Switzerland, was to form a bilateral committee on cybersecurity issues and potential cyber-attacks. The American part highlighted 16 entities, infrastructures that are off-limits from attacks.

China is also raising concerns in Washington. The United States’ cyberspace relations with China are different as compared to Russia. China has greater economic potential, therefore, more resources to fund its cyberspace strategy. When considered from a global perspective, it reaches any industry and all the sectors involving any entity. Like in other arenas, China is pursuing to take the frontrunner role in cyberspace as well. The characteristics of Chinese cyber-attacks are heavily intelligence oriented and spying for the ultimate western technology. A great suspicion is toward Chinese advanced telecommunication equipment like the Huawei 5G. In order to avoid the escalation of such allegations, the two states in 2015 signed the U.S. - China Security Agreement. However, it focuses only on economically motivated cyber-attacks. It is widened by the escalated trade war between the two countries resulting in no breakthrough during the Trump administration and the recent Sino-American summit in March 2021. 


Given the increasing importance and danger of cyberspace, only in 2020 alone, almost 30.000 companies, corporations, institutions and banks were targeted and a total of 300 million cyber-attacks were launched causing over $1 billion loss. The concept of cyberspace and its potential threats became a national security topic during the presidency of George W. Bush. The Obama Administration was the first to institutionalize it, while President Trump was the first who publicly accused China of cyberspace warfare. Now, it is President Biden’s turn to take an approach and engage major powers to internationally institutionalize cyberspace to prevent uncontrolled cyber-attacks. There is a need for barriers and deterrence for those who conduct uncontrolled cyber-attacks. Although this was initiated with Russia during the Biden-Putin summit, only time will tell the extent to which it is successfully implemented. 

July 12, 20212 Comments

Oleg Goldshmidt on Cybersecurity

Oleg Goldshmidt talks about Cybersecurity, deception technology, 5G, protection of key infrastructure, financial services and national security. Oleg Goldshmidt is a principal software architect at Fortinet. This is ITSS Verona Member Series Video Podcast by the Cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence and Space Team.

Interviewer: Renata Safina