Columbia World Projects Cybersecurity Forum Report

Columbia World Projects

It is precisely because of the indispensable role the Internet plays in our lives that disruptions to the systems, and networks that undergird them, can rapidly bring so much of what we do to a standstill, undermine our privacy and civil liberties, and even threaten our prosperity and national security. And of course, it is not just systems that are connected to the Internet that are vulnerable to digital attack – so too are standalone systems, networks, and programs. While it is difficult to measure the precise level of exposure in this realm, there is a clear consensus that cybersecurity is one of the most significant and complex challenges facing the world today. To give just a few examples, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence said cybersecurity is one of his “greatest concerns and top priorities.” The U.S. Homeland Security Secretary’s has assessed that cyberweapons and sophisticated hacking pose a greater threat to the United States than the risk of physical attacks. Freedom House concluded that digital disinformation tactics have contributed to a global decline in Internet freedom every year for the last seven years, and played an important role in elections in at least 18 countries from 2016 to 2017 alone. And estimates regarding the global economic impact of cyber attacks range from $400 billion to more than $2 trillion each year. So too is there is a growing recognition that technology solutions alone cannot address the many vulnerabilities and possible vectors of attack, but rather that behavioral, normative, regulatory, social, and other interventions will also be critical to building effective solutions. Yet, despite these high-level warnings and the fact that a fair amount of attention and resources have been devoted in the last several years to cybersecurity, the increasing sophistication of cyber threats continues to outpace progress, as does the number of attacks, particularly in the United States and in Europe.

It was with this understanding – that current efforts to address cybersecurity are insufficient – that participants in the Columbia World Projects (CWP) Forum on Cybersecurity began their opening plenary discussion. Approximately 35 experts with a range of different substantive and institutional perspectives shared their views on the nature of the threat, key vulnerabilities, and the particularly intractable challenges associated with addressing them. This discussion provided critical context for the concrete project proposals taken up later in the working groups (Section II), and helped inform the selection of projects meriting further development by CWP (Section III).


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Columbia World Projects
Columbia World Projects
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January 7, 2019