(RIEAS Research Associate, Security Analyst & PhD candidate in Security-Strategic Studies)
In the last years, cyberspace has been transformed into a distinct theatre of war operations, a sub-arena within the overall theatre of war which is characterized by its own norms, patterns and dynamics. Cyber-warfare is associated with the fifth dimension of defence with the rest four being the land, the sea, air and space. To the time, several states have developed cyber-security strategies and have incorporated cyberspace as an integral part of their national security strategies. Specifically, European states that have developed cyber-security strategies are Estonia, Finland, the Czech Republic, France, Slovakia, Germany, Lithuania, Luxemburg, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The United States, Canada, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand set the puzzle in regards to the countries that have developed comprehensive cyber-security strategies. The afore-mentioned list explicitly indicates the global recognition in regards to the emergence of challenges that affect the security of cyberspace. More countries are expected to extend the list of countries possessing cyber-security strategies in the coming years. Cyber-space is aptly called the battlefield of the 21st century.
The development of extremely sophisticated malwares-viruses like Stuxnet and Flame that believed to have caused severe damage to the nuclear ambitions of Iran has come to solidify the increasing importance of cyber-space in contemporary strategic planning. According to a recent publication by the New York Times, the United States and Israel made use of their offensive cyber-warfare capabilities with an aim to slow down Iran’s ‘progress toward developing the ability to build nuclear weapons’. The current article aims to outline the new challenges to national/international security that have emerged from the demarcation of cyberspace as a distinct battlefield. Furthermore, this article will seek to underline the necessity for the Republic of Cyprus to develop a comprehensive cyber-security strategy in order to keep up with contemporary and future challenges to its national security.
Cyber-warfare and new challenges to (inter)national security
To begin with, we need to set out the scene in regards to the characteristics of cyber-warfare. Cyber-warfare is an asymmetrical threat due to:
- its inexplicit geographical orientation,
- its operational low cost
- it is bounded by no specific norms and patterns
- unpredictable and practically invisible
Cyber-warfare is a multi-dimensional threat and can potentially constitute a severe blow to the smooth functioning of a state. In the military level, cyber-sabotage may result to the interception of strategic/tactical intelligence, operational planning of the state, highly classified military information and data as well as the interception of telecommunications. In regards to the politico-military level, cyber-attacks may take the form of extended psychological and propaganda operations. In the economic level a cyber-attack can potentially paralyze any form of economic activity and generally affect the economic well-being of the state, ranging from the banking system to the state’s sensitive economic data and reserves. In the social level, cyber-attacks may affect individual privacy and the interception of sensitive and private data.
Current estimations spin around the assumption that resources dedicated to the security of cyberspace will be multiplied in the next few years. This assumption lies on the fact that states become more dependent on cyber-space for their smooth-functioning. This may take the form of the digitalization of sensitive and confidential data ranging from issues of economic nature to issues of purely tactical military nature. The increased dependency of states on cyber-space will automatically create more vulnerabilities and gaps of security. However, the more states become vulnerable to cyber-security threats the more investments will be made in regards to the drafting, development and implementation of their cyber capabilities, defensive as well as offensive.
The cyber-era, the Turkish threat and the Republic of Cyprus
To the time, the Republic of Cyprus has not developed a comprehensive cyber-security strategy. It is a fact that the Republic of Cyprus is not as heavily dependent on cyber-space for the smooth-functioning of a state. However, the Republic of Cyprus will inevitably become more dependent in the next decade. The globe is experiencing the era of massive dissemination, distribution and publication of information. I strongly argue that due to the Turkish military threat, the Republic of Cyprus must proceed to the research and implementation of smart-defence methodologies that will enhance its defence capabilities against the multi-dimensional Turkish threat. The Republic of Cyprus exhibits limited deterrence capabilities due to the absence of substantial air-force and Navy. Hence, Cyprus relies heavily on its conventional military forces (National Guard) and the military support from Greece (air-fighters, submarines, battleships) which will operationally support National Guard in the case of a war incident with Turkey. However, the military sector of cyber-security and the Republic’s military cyber-defensive capabilities is just an aspect of the overall cyber-security strategy.
Due to the multi-dimensional existential threat Turkey poses to the Republic of Cyprus, the latter must proceed to the establishment of a Centre for the Network Security of the Republic of Cyprus. In the last five years Turkey has made considerable advancements in regards to its offensive cyber-capabilities. The Turkish state has mobilized vast resources dedicated to cyber-security research and has developed infrastructure able to support its defensive and offensive cyber-capabilities. Due to the absence of a national centre for the countering of a massive cyber-attack, the Republic of Cyprus remains extremely vulnerable in the case of cyber-sabotage. Furthermore, due to the fact that cyber-attacks constitute a trans-national threat, non-state actors are in a position to launch severe cyber-attacks against the Republic of Cyprus with an aim to undermine its economic or civil service network security. The aim of this contribution is to highlight the necessity for the establishment of a national centre for the countering of cyber-security threats against the Cypriot state. The proposed institution should be kept distinct from the purely cyber-security sector of the armed forces of the Republic of Cyprus. Hence, this centre will be responsible for the civil and private sector security and more specifically:
- the security of the government’s communications network
- the civil service network security
- the banking sector’s security in collaboration with banking institutions
- the security of the energy-power supply sector of the Republic
- the civil aviation network security
- the individual privacy/protection/security of cyber activity
For the purposes of the establishment of the afore-mentioned cyber-security centre, it is a prerequisite that the public and private sector collaborate smoothly. The private sector expertise and resources are fundamental for the success of such an emprise. In addition, the Republic of Cyprus must take the necessary steps to ensure collaboration with states which are in possession of advanced cyber-security defensive and offensive capabilities like Israel, France and Germany. It goes without saying that the establishment of such a centre will enhance and contribute to the overall security and smooth-functioning of the Republic of Cyprus, the private sector as well as in terms of individual cyber-privacy and security of transactions.