Growing importance of cybersecurity for Azerbaijan

Monday, October 15, 2012

Only twenty years ago, the cybersecurity matters were of any concern only to people in Hollywood developing movies like “Hackers” that pictured the cybercrimes and cyberwarfare as science fiction. Today, we can safely say that we are living this science fiction.
Growing numbers of cyberattacks on the data and infrastructural systems underlines the importance of the comprehensive cybersecurity for states as well as individuals or corporations. World is experiencing the stage when wealth is digitized and that includes money, personal data and intellectual property. And if you locate your wealth in the digitized form, you have to be ready that cybercriminals may target it.
All that is just one part of the story. On the other hand, for the states like Azerbaijan, that are engaged in the protracted armed conflict for more than twenty years now, the nature of warfare is as changing as rapidly developing information and military technologies. Moreover, when there is an absence of active hostilities and only occasional skirmishes on the frontline, with years the warfare only naturally starts to shift its domains. Right now the shift became apparent. From classic domains of land and air, the warfare for Azerbaijan shifts towards so-called “5th domain” or cyberspace.
The rapid development of information technologies both globally as well as regionally prompts the countries in the region to keep up with the cyberarms race. Cybersecurity is becoming more crucial for the comprehensive defense of not only digitalized wealth or data, but also quite physical infrastructure and communication systems. Free flow of information by itself constitutes a blessing as well as challenge to sustain and maintain it free.
In such situation Azerbaijan can soon face variety of cyberweapons directed against it. Such weapons were already used in several cases to disrupt, deny and deceive an adversary’s strategic intentions. Though such weapons have not proved to be yet coercive by themselves, they might become just that in the course of future development. Moreover, if used with more conventional instruments of power a coercive effect might build up. The danger of cyberweapons at the same time is in their contemporary indiscriminate character. Computer viruses such as Stuxnet or Flame that have been used as cyberweapons, for example, did not feature the proper level of targeting and became indiscriminate in the process of their use. Effective cyberattack is usually a complex operation with large burden of intelligence. Precisely because of that, for now, the resources and ability to carry out an effective cyberattack lie in the hands of states. However, due to the rapid development of technology, that might well change in the course of next years and provide the groups or even individuals with the same abilities to be engaged in cyberwarfare.
What is more is that for now there is no clear opinion in the international law itself on the matters of cyberwarfare. Many questions relate to if the laws of war apply to cyberwarfare? Can the state exercise its right to self-defense if attacked by the cyberattack? Can it retaliate with physical force?
In the situation of uncertainty even on the theoretical level, cybersecurity of Azerbaijan becomes of growing importance. In light of variety of threats that starts to be even more apparent. First and main threat in cyberwarfare is simple espionage. While it becomes more manageable, the danger to the security of your data, strategic plans or any other classified information increases dramatically as it becomes digitalized and networked. Cyberthreats directed toward obtaining such information should be then countered by the comprehensive security measures.
Another area is so-called “information war”. Being a victim of aggression and even having international law on your side does not by itself safeguard Azerbaijan from the flow of false information and propaganda. As our territories still occupied, so is our country still on the defensive in the “information war”, countering negative flow of the information as well as propaganda from Armenia. In such situation you want to maintain both free flow of information for yourself as well as to protect your “information hubs” from being compromised or misused by the enemy.
Third level of danger might bring even more severe consequences if reached. Cyberattacks proved to be able to bring physical and kinetic effects that become much more an alarming threat as the cyber-weapons progress. In the situation like that it is crucial for Azerbaijan to maintain an appropriate level of cybersecurity to protect its critical infrastructure such as energy grids, financial networks and defense industrial base. The rapid digitalization in these areas brought both positive results for overall infrastructure as well as new security concerns. 
For Azerbaijan the development of cybersecurity strategy becomes increasingly important. Comprehensive strategy in this area would provide for the implementation of effective centralized cybersecurity for the whole country to be able to answer any modern challenges of cyberwarfare, explore potential of cyberspace, protect its networks and systems, add to technological innovations in the area and strengthen collective cybersecurity with its international partners.

 Kamal Makili-Aliyev
Doctor of Laws (LL.D)

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