Conclusions on the UN Security Council’s open debate on cybersecurity

Experts and representatives discussed the need for a rule of law in cyberspace, a potential new cybercrime treaty, and the inclusion of Global South perspectives.

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The UN Security Council held an open debate on cybersecurity as part of South Korea’s presidency for the month of June. The day-long debate centred on the evolving threat landscape in cyberspace, emphasising the need for digital advancements to be directed towards positive outcomes. During the ensuing debate, nearly 70 speakers shared national perspectives on the growing threats posed by rapidly evolving technologies wielded by state and non-state actors. 

UN Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted the rapid pace of digital breakthroughs, acknowledging their ability to unite people, disseminate information rapidly, and boost economies. However, he cautioned that the connectivity that fuels these benefits also exposes individuals, institutions, and nations to significant vulnerabilities. Guterres pointed to the alarming rise of ransomware attacks, which cost an estimated $1.1 billion in ransom payments last year. Nonetheless, he noted that the implications extended beyond financial costs to impact peace, security, and overall stability.

In response to these challenges, Guterres referenced the ‘New Agenda for Peace,’ which calls for concerted efforts by states to prevent conflicts from escalating in cyberspace. He stressed the importance of upholding the rule of law in the digital realm and highlighted ongoing discussions among member states regarding a new cybercrime treaty. Recognising the interconnectedness of cyberspace with global peace and security, he urged the Security Council to incorporate cyber-related considerations into its agenda.

Stéphane Duguin, CEO of the CyberPeace Institute, briefed the council, offering valuable insights into recent cyberattacks, including the ‘AcidRain’ incident affecting Ukraine and cybercriminal activities linked to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Duguin emphasised the necessity of attributing cyberattacks to perpetrators to facilitate de-escalation efforts. In turn, Nnenna Ifeanyi-Ajufo, an expert in Law and Technology, highlighted the misuse of cyber technology by terrorist groups in Africa and the risks posed by states infringing on human rights under the guise of cybersecurity. She called for enhanced mechanisms to understand the cyber threat landscape across different regions.

In deliberating the Council’s role in the cyber domain, some representatives advocated for inclusive processes within the UN, particularly under the General Assembly, to establish equitable arrangements in addressing cyber threats. Others urged the Security Council to take a more active role. Several speakers stressed the Council’s potential to lead in building a secure cyberspace, bridging with existing UN efforts in cybersecurity and ensuring Global South perspectives are considered at every step of the process.

In contrast, the representative from Russia highlighted a lack of clarity in determining which malicious digital technology use could threaten international peace and security. In this regard, Russia criticised the West for attributing cyberattacks to what they called ‘inconvenient countries.’ Moreover, the representative opposed the Council’s involvement in this matter, stating that such a move would exclude states not part of the Council from the discussion.

Why does it matter?

Highlighting the urgency of addressing cyber threats, representatives stressed the need for the Council to facilitate dialogue and support capacity-building efforts, especially in developing countries lacking the resources and expertise to combat cyber threats. 

The discussions highlighted the critical need for proactive measures to address cyber threats, promote cybersecurity, and safeguard global peace and stability in an increasingly interconnected digital landscape.