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OPINION: Winning the cyber war with a united digital front

Monday, 16 May 2022 08:00 GMT

A hooded man holds a laptop computer as blue screen with an exclamation mark is projected on him in this illustration picture taken on May 13, 2017. Capitalizing on spying tools believed to have been developed by the U.S. National Security Agency, hackers staged a cyber assault with a self-spreading malware that has infected tens of thousands of computers in nearly 100 countries. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

As initiatives to regulate artificial intelligence pop up across the world, the EU and the United States have a huge opportunity to act in concert and agree on common global standards.

Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl is Director-General of DIGITALEUROPE, an industry association representing over 36,000 digital companies, and a member of NATO’s high-level advisory group for Emerging and Disruptive Technologies.

The West has united in its condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by imposing harsh economic sanctions on Russia and providing billions of dollars of security assistance and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. But more needs to be done to strengthen transatlantic cybersecurity. 

Before Russia invaded Ukraine, there was a massive spike in cyberattacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. Russia hit government websites, hospitals, and energy networks in an effort to destabilise the country. Earlier this month, a Russian state-sponsored hacking group attempted to shut off the power for 2 million Ukrainians. While hackers were effectively rebuffed, Russia’s onslaught of cyberattacks will almost certainly continue and become more dangerous. 

Just recently, the U.S. government issued an urgent warning that the Kremlin is preparing to launch a new round of cyberattacks on America. Despite these repeated warnings and realised threats, the United States has so far failed to fully establish sufficient mechanisms to foil cyberattacks – at the cost of an estimated $6 trillion in global losses in 2021.

So how can the United States and the European Union work together on crafting and enacting policies that can keep pace with the rapid growth of the cyber domain?

The U.S.-EU partnership on the launch of the Trade and Technology Council (TTC) serves as a good model. While the effort began as an attempt to break down business barriers between two of the world’s biggest economies, it is now a critical component in ensuring global security for all. The TTC is already serving as a productive space for crisis response, as can be observed by the unprecedented, rapid coordination on sanctions against Russia.

When the TTC meets again on May 16 in Paris, the United States and the EU must make progress on setting standards for cybersecurity, focusing on combatting the next major cyberattack. As a start, the United States and the EU can set the shared rules of the game for artificial intelligence (AI) and cybersecurity.

As initiatives to regulate AI keep popping up across different regions of the world, the EU and the United States have a huge opportunity to act in concert and agree on common global standards. For example, it is imperative to align on a common AI risk assessment framework defining exactly what applications or products would be considered “high-risk”. Such a shared definition would help ensure compatibility to boost collaboration and healthy competition, in addition to maintaining security.

It is crucial that U.S. policymakers and corporations engage now as regulations, especially the Artificial Intelligence Act, are taking shape. By creating joint standards for key policies on AI and quantum technologies, the United States and Europe can embed respect for democratic values and codify a strict set of rules against their misuse.

This enhanced partnership would lead to the creation of harmonised rules that will generate a larger market for businesses to innovate in, and provide greater protections for Americans and Europeans, for infrastructure, and for businesses. And from a global security perspective, the collaboration and unity will help prepare for a digital world.

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