Protect us from the modern plague

Lebanon remains overwhelmingly vulnerable to cyberwarfare

Illustration by: Ivan Debs

When modernity was sending out its first rays of thought in the Enlightenment Age, thinker Thomas Hobbes wrote speculatively that the natural state of man is “war of all against all.” Overcoming the universal conflict to him was the central historical argument for the formation of states. Captivating and influential as his frightful idea of constant warfare as man’s original modus operandi was, it stands in history as a construct that could not be corroborated. We desire peace and are accustomed to existing in an interplay of conflict and harmony, in which we grudgingly live through periods of war, only in hope of a new peace. Until now.

More than ever before, the digital age could bring mankind closer to a situation of, albeit virtual, war of all against all. This is not talk of some online game. Cyberwarfare, cyberterrorism and organized cybercrime comprise a devilish triangle that is growing more sophisticated, more intense in its attacks, more devious, more profitable and greedier by the minute. Microsoft’s Chief Technology Officer for the Middle East, Nasser Kettani, tells Executive of assumptions that cybercrime will grow from a $500 billion impact on the world economy in 2015 to a staggering $4 trillion impact by 2020 (see overview). Cybercrime already reaps more profit than the illicit drug trade, but if the projections above prove correct, the impact of cybercrime will scale up from less than 1 percent of the world’s GDP to over 4 percent in just a few years – the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects world GDP for 2020 to be $93.6 trillion.

This is bad enough for an illicit economic impact and sure to bring about unwelcome distortions to the societal equilibriums within states around the world, raising the specter of the type of disorder that existed in Prohibition-era America just before the Great Depression. What is even more frightening is that nobody is safe from deliberate cyberattacks – no government, corporate entity or individual. Under most social contracts of the modern age, people trusted their states with what sociologist Max Weber called the “monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force” in times of peace because they expected the state to guard them, broadly in line with Hobbes’ reasoning about the state’s role and raison d’etre.

Protection

This protection was never complete. Interpersonal violence and organized crime were the troubling exceptions to the state’s power of protection. But now, in the digital age, it seems that disruptive forces – whether cybercrime-syndicates, terrorist organizations or even hostile states – are punching many holes in the protective ability of nation states over our digital lives, which are increasing in importance as the new dimension that is being added to human existence in the internet age.       

Even in full awareness of the many challenges that Lebanon’s (almost) elected parliamentarians face in this time, Executive calls for urgent implementation of the long overdue legislation on our digital rights and the best possible protection by the Lebanese state in the digital world to its citizens and residents. In the long run, digital rights may very well be as important as the voting rights, on whose timely implementation this year Executive insists in the sharpest form possible. For Lebanese citizens and the economy, the state’s contribution to protection against cybercrime through appropriate legal frameworks with stiff penalties will be vital, and so will be the implementation of best defense capabilities through a national Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT).

The world today is full of global dangers and policy challenges, from weapons of mass destruction and ever present dictatorial or totalitarian tendencies to technologically generated scourges. Lebanon, in addition, has its specific political plagues and worries. But let’s not forget that the greatest challenge to social contracts is the challenge to keep the lid on the human capacity for evil and that the noblest challenge for the state in this regard is to protect its people in their freedom. This makes it important for Lebanon to ward off cybercrime and cyberwarfare in the best possible and most globally integrated way. And there is much to do.

Lackluster cybersecurity

Lebanon is presently two decades overdue with its law on digital signatures. The public sector is short of cybersecurity experts in many ministries. Private sector financial players, namely our banks, are leading in awareness of the importance of cybersecurity, but there are still many issues to be solved in cyber protection of financial institutions, and of the still under-aware and under-concerned companies in other industries.

We are lacking legal penalties that can deter cybercriminals and need the legislative framework, budget and skilled experts to develop a national CERT (computer emergency response teams) as a core element in our cyber defenses. By all expectations, cybersecurity will be one of the most important issues globally in 2017 and beyond. We thus encourage the security agencies to speed up the development of national preparedness for cyberattacks. Most importantly, we call on the Lebanese Parliament and the executive branch to pass and implement necessary cybersecurity legislation now.

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