Blogging on Issues of International and European Security

Digital Borders: International Cyber Warfare and its Implications on Europe

by Akash Radia

Perusing the ISIS blog there is an obvious increase in articles pertaining to cyber crime and cyber warfare over the years. The trend on our blog correlates to the trend in mainstream media. Recent leaks by Edward Snowden from the National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States need little to no further explication.


The Snowden Affair has left EU-US relations in a precarious position (

The fact of the matter is, as technology develops so too does the potential to use it for illicit means. Last year, ISIS published a blog post citing the lack of legal tools available to combat the issue. Last week, ISIS attended an event that presented an altogether more troubling view on the matter.

“Cyber-espionage: towards International cyber warfare?” was hosted by IB Consultancy as part of their new Non-Conventional Threat (NCT) events series. Two speakers, Thomas Goorden (Representative of the Belgian Pirate Party) and Albert J. Jongman (Former Senior Strategic Analyst for Terrorism at Dutch Ministry of Defense), exchanged views on the matter in an engrossing talk.

The Golden Age of Signal Intelligence (SIGINT)

At the most recent Security and Defense (SEDE) Subcommittee in the European Parliament, the EU’s policy towards cyber crime was confirmed as being under the jurisdiction of individual states. The EU does no more than foster cooperation and communication. What this presumably creates is what many think the internet should be: a borderless cloud, with free movement between servers without fear of being monitored the same way we might be if we crossed a physical border. In truth, this is not the case. Most websites we visit go via servers based in the United States. When this occurs, personal data can become compromised. That data is stored by the US government, according to Goorden.


The Golden Age of Signal Intelligence (

It’s been heralded as the golden age of SIGINT, an age where governments are able to collect more information than at any other time in history.

This is no new claim. The EU has moved to address the issue and here in Brussels, ISIS has been in the audience at events that confront the rather delicate position the recent Snowden affair has placed on the transatlantic relationship. However, less obvious is the bordering of an imagined space, a digital colonisation attempt by the US. In essence the US, as insinuated by both Goorden and Jongman, is attempting to border the digital globe, hold it under its purview, and at times, use the defense against terrorism, as an offensive on other governments, private companies, and civilians alike.

The Black Swan Event

Whether heretical or truth-sayers, the rhetoric surrounding cyber warfare is alarmist. Still, the fall-out from the NSA files has highlighted the perceived gap in capacity between the US and Europe. Thus alarmist, at times, is warranted.

Jongman, a veteran in issues of cyber warfare, made a spate of predictions on trends bound to occur:

1. Security agencies will be heavily scrutinised. The sharing of data between European and US intelligence services has occurred for over a decade. However, the now public knowledge of said activities, and their illicit methods, will lead to more revelations and a stricter rule on security agencies.

2. New types of cyber attacks will occur. Jongman was quick to underline the necessity to protect all sectors of government. From the more obvious financial sector to the lesser realised energy sector.

3. There will be an intensified battle for internet security. Jongman foreshadowed the words of Goorden by illustrating the extent of US control on the internet. They will have sway on how free the internet will be. Talks of creating a European cloud, inaccessible to the US, was seen as a possibility, but also seen as futile in light of current US overture.

4. People will begin to use the internet differently. Jongman predicted the initiation of internet subscriptions that contain a level of different speeds. Again, American enterprise will win through, he envisioned.

Such a narrative gives prominence to our reliance on systems of digital information we have little knowledge about. In this, an event that can be entirely unpredictable in nature, a Black Swan event, can have more catastrophic consequences unlike any seen before. Such a rhetoric was reiterated by Goorden, calling cyber warfare “the atom bomb of our time.”

The largest issue at play here from a European point-of-view is that of privacy policy. On one side of the spectrum stand China, with restrictive access to information, and on the other both Europe and the US, where access is unlimited, but so too is the government’s control on your data. The interaction between digital freedom and privacy protection is a policy issue that will continue long after media attention dissipates.


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This entry was posted on 28/02/2014 by in Akash Radia, Conferences, Contributors.


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