Panel Discussion on Cyberspace: Opening Remarks by Ambassador Wittig

Jun 6, 2013

(Opening remarks as delivered by Ambassador Wittig on the occassion of a panel discussion "Cyber Security -- Uncharted waters for the UN", held at the German House, June 6, 2013)

"Ladies and gentlemen,

welcome to the German House, welcome to our panel discussion on cybersecurity which we organised in cooperation with the East-West-Institute.

Some of you might know the novel "Zero Day" -- a thriller by Mark Russinovich, in which the horror of cyberterrorism unfolds: Over the Atlantic, the controls of an airliner's controls stop reacting and the pilots barely avert disaster. In Japan, an oil tanker runs aground when its navigational system fails. And in America, a nuclear power plant nearly becomes the next Chernobyl. The protagonist, a former government analyst, begins his race against time in order to stop an international disaster.

This book is, of course, fiction -- but it is noteworthy that the author holds a senior position at Microsoft.Howard Schmidt, a former White House Cyber Security Coordinator, commented in his foreword to the novel: "While what Mark wrote is fiction, the risks that he writes about eerily mirror many situations that we see today."

Ladies and gentlemen,

News on cyber security have indeed become regular reading for us all. Hardly a day goes by without media coverage of cyberattacks, cyberespionage and cybersabotage. Rapidly advancing technological capabilities have given rise to mounting risks of escalation and miscalculation. Sophisticated threats both from state actors and non-state actors are increasingly perceived as a problem of international security. Cyber issues, in a nutshell, have become a major cross-cutting issue of Foreign Policy.

But what are these cyber issues after all? How do we get a better grip on this elusive notion of "cyber space"? Let me, for the sake of clarity we suggest to distinguish three major themes: first, internet freedom and human rights, second, economic development and third, security.

First, there is the theme of internet freedom and the potential of new technologies to foster human rights. We have all learned that the internet can be a powerful tool for freedom and human rights globally. But the internet can also be abused as we all know: Repressive regimes can use it as a tool for censorship, misinformation or detection of political opponents. We need to find answers to the crucial question of how we organize the web in order to keep it free and secure at the same time.

Second, there is the economic dimension: the internet as an engine and catalyst for economic development with enormous opportunities for our global economy. We have to ensure, however, that developing countries have an equal share in these tremendous new opportunities. We must address the digital divide and thus turn the internet into an engine for a truly global economic growth.

Third, there's cyber security. With an increasing number of states developing military cyber capabilities, the security of cyber space is a key goal - although not one that is easy to achieve. In the military arena of the past, politics of deterrence, classic non-proliferation strategies and export controls have prevented major destructive escalations. Cyberscenarios are different: Perpetrators in cyberspace very likely remain invisible to most of us, it is almost impossible to attribute an act of cyber aggression to an attacker in a legally indisputable way. Misperceptions and escalation can be the results.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The challenge for us therefore is to shape a secure cyber environment without limiting the immense potential the internet offers to foster freedom and economic opportunities. In this context, it seems a defensive approach seems far more promising to us than an offensive one: Providing better technical resilience and reducing our vulnerabilities by strong passive defence measures may well decrease the likelihood of successful attacks -- the higher the wall, the more likely an attacker will refrain from his attempt.

At the same time we need to pursue our efforts to promote trust and confidence. We need to define a framework for lawful state conduct in cyberspace. We should have clarity about the rules and norms that apply in cyberspace. If we want to avoid major escalations, we need to know what is ok, and what is not. Misperceptions are a risk. Therefore we need practical steps for more transparency and confidence. The stakes are too high, and too many lives at risk, for a mere laissez-faire approach. Games without rules are messy. We should move beyond them.

All three issues -- freedom and human rights, economic development and security -- affect each other. They have also been key areas of the work of the United Nations since the very beginning. However, cyber issues are rarely discussed within the UN -- they are mostly uncharted waters. Today we would therefore like to start a dialogue on the importance and relevance of cyber issues in the UN.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I'm excited about today's panelists: They are among the leading scholars and practitioners in the field.I am sure we'll gain new insights into the world of cyberspace, into its risks and opportunities, and that together we get a better understanding of these, so far, uncharted waters. And perhaps we'll also learn whether the UN should set out to map -- or even sail -- these waters.

I want to thank today's panelists -- and Colum Lynch, their moderator. Colum, we are now in your hands.

Thank you."

© GermanyUN