President Karis: Cyber security must involve whole of society

President Alar Karis delivering his keynote speech at CyCon 2023 in Tallinn.
President Alar Karis delivering his keynote speech at CyCon 2023 in Tallinn. Source: Office of the President of the Republic of Estonia

Much can be learned from Ukraine's experience of cyber attacks over the past 15 months since the Russian invasion began, President Alar Karis says. This includes seeing cyber warfare as an integral part of modern conflict, not as something separate and discrete, while also investigating how international law applies in cyber space, too.

Ultimately, cyber security must be a collaborative effort involving the whole of society, the head of state says.

The president made his remarks in his keynote speech to CyCon, a conference focusing on cyber conflict organized by the Tallinn-based NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence (CCDCOE), which Ukraine recently joined – a development the Estonian head of state welcomed.

Karis said: "In peace and wartime alike, cyber security must be a collaborative effort, from the entirety of society."

The head of state gave the example of Ukraine, where cyber attacks have been targeted at critical infrastructure, including electricity grids, rail networks and telecoms providers, aimed at harming the country's resilience. "The lesson here is to bring the providers of those critical services up to the level where they have the best chances of withstanding attacks of that nature," he said.

"The only way to ensure resiliency is seamless cyber security cooperation between the private and the public sector," the president went on.

This means cooperation between the private and public sectors to ensure cyber security, not to mention cooperation internationally, Karis said.

Fifteen months after the beginning of Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, it is time to learn from Ukraine's experience in fending off cyber attacks, to share experiences and to find solutions which would increase resilience both individually and collectively.

In 2022 alone, the number of cyber attacks against Estonia rose by 300 per cent, including waves of politically motivated cyber attacks, for instance after the removal of a Soviet-era tank monument in Narva.

Clarification is also needed on how international humanitarian law applies in the cyber sphere, if these accompany an armed conflict such as Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"In Ukraine, as in other armed conflicts, we should not think of cyber attacks during armed conflict as something separate from the rest of the military campaign. The same logic should apply to accountability," the president said.

"Criminals, and particularly war criminals, should not be able to hide from their responsibility in cyber space."

CyCon 2023 is the 15th such annual conference, and runs to tomorrow, June 2.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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