UNO September 2018

The technological intrusion

Up until just a few years ago, most technological and social analysts agreed with Al Gore, former U.S. presidential candidate, and his idea of what the internet represented: “The internet is a formidable new medium of communication and a source of great hope for the future vitality of democracy.” Those same observers have now turned to the opinion held by Google’s Executive Chairman up to 2017, Eric Schmidt, as a more realistic idea. He said the internet was “the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.” Between Gore’s optimism and Schmidt’s wry skepticism, there should be a realistic acknowledgement the internet is an enormous vehicle for knowledge that democratizes learning, connects citizens and societies and has annihilated the concepts of space and time. At the same time, it should be stressed that the internet also brings what we now call vulnerabilities and hazards, and their avoidance and neutralization must come from within.

The digitalization of the economy, social relationships, communications, knowledge, employment and work are extraordinary achievements of our time, but they entail risks we must address. Digital technology has expanded to such an extent, making the world so dependent on its dictates, that we could well speak of it as an intrusion that is distorting the values and principles necessary for coexistence, social good and people’s health. Three types of vulnerabilities are brought about by these new technologies. The first affects citizens in their everyday lives; the second concerns societies dependent on information technologies; and the third has an impact on politics, and especially one aspect of it: defense politics.

Digital technology has expanded to such an extent that we could well speak of it as an intrusion that is distorting key values and principles

The World Health Organization (WHO) does not yet acknowledge people technically suffer from digital addiction. According to the organization, we can only talk of excessive internet use. However, evidence suggests that before long, intense use of networks will be classified as an addiction that can be treated by psychological or even drug therapies, insofar as the new technologies can cause anxiety or serious emotional disorders. Universal use of cell phones, which store a vast amount of personal knowledge and replace memory, is now a habit spanning almost all generations.

The incessantly growing number of applications; the fact cell phones now replace TVs, watches, alarms, voice communication tools and social devices of widely varying natures through WhatsApp; technology’s presence as a third (almost physical) arm all indicate a dependence—addictive or otherwise—that has changed people’s behavior, bringing society new relationship patterns and a new outlook on life. Technological socialization opens the door to another very serious vulnerability, as we saw in March of this year, when data leakage affected as many as 50 million Facebook users. This was a huge blow to global cybersecurity with consequences in numerous areas, especially in political interference.

This digital dependence is being used to commit new crimes (cybercrime), some of which are particularly alarming (such as cyberbullying, which is turning into a plague), as well as other types of especially sordid crimes, including child pornography, pedophile rings, drug and human trafficking… In short, new technologies have become parasitic hosts to types of crime that are forcing police to restructure their preparation and activities, using the opportunities technology offers to their advantage during criminal investigations and arrests.

New technologies have become parasitic hosts to types of crime that are forcing police to restructure their preparation and activities

Institutionalized falsehoods—the second vulnerability—refer to what has become known as fake news. This alternative reality is filled with post-truths and untrue “facts” that are difficult to check but appeal to emotions, a plague that would not spread if it were not for new technologies. The problem of misinformation and the distortion of reality is one of the clearest vulnerabilities caused by new technologies, and digital networks have not found any obvious solutions beyond the verification platforms springing up to tackle this abuse. The fact that many politicians and unscrupulous leaders use these deceitful resources in their campaigns or to reinforce their decisions in public opinion introduces a new paradigm in public leadership.

For the first time in its many years of history, the World Economic Forum—which meets in Davos annually and covers an essentially financial agenda–—has set up the Global Centre for Cybersecurity, which has been in operation since last March. This initiative was preceded by the Global Risks Report (2018), which recommended making cybersecurity a primary topic at the event because “cyberattacks are perceived as the global risk of highest concern to business leaders in advanced economies.” Forum experts have spent an entire year preparing a cyber resilience playbook, identifying 14 areas in which the public and private sectors could cooperate.

Vulnerabilities deriving from new technologies affect business and state security, creating the need for close collaboration and a Copernican review of companies’ safeguards

We are already seeing vulnerabilities deriving from new technologies affect business and state security, creating the need for close collaboration and a Copernican review of companies’ safeguards for digital assets and principles behind strengthening state security measures (both defense and response) against external enemies. The possibility of hacking even the most intimate and strategic secrets owned by large enterprises (data bases, production formulas, marketing networks, patents, etc.) or nations (offensive and defensive nuclear assets, lines of investigation for war risks, classified information on hostile agents, election results, etc.) has become a tactical, strategic, political and business priority. Nobody harbors any doubt about that. In Spain, the monthly reports published in Madrid by The Cyber Security Think Tank, which are conveyed through Instituto Elcano, deserve praise as a true vanguard in analyzing cybersecurity and defense.

Broadly speaking, these are the key areas of technological intrusion in our time. It is a new threat tempering the numerous benefits new technologies provide. There has never been a historical phenomenon that has been solely and wholly beneficial. All have their good and bad sides. We are now in the fight against the excesses of digitalization, which presents vulnerabilities that can cause real disasters.

Jose Antonio Zarzalejos
External advisor
An external advisor for LLYC, he previously held the position of managing director of the firm in Spain. A journalist and law school graduate from the University of Deusto, he was the director of El Correo de Bilbao, general secretary of Vocento and director of ABC in Spain. He has been honored with several professional awards, including the Mariano de Cavia Award from the Federation of Press Associations of Spain, the Javier Godó for Journalism award and Luca de Tena award. [Spain]

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