Cyber Diplomacy Is in High Demand
The U.S. Department of State is formally executing a new role, that of cyber diplomacy. With the creation of the Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy last April and the appointment in the fall of the associated ambassador, the department is globally elevating the dialogue about cybersecurity and the need for international norms and standards, digital infrastructure and emerging technologies. The new organization also has found great demand from allies and partners for cybersecurity assistance, said Nathaniel Fick, ambassador at large, Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy, U.S. Department of State, speaking to reporters today at a Defense Writers Group event in Washington, D.C.
“A key piece of our remit is bolstering cyber capacity amongst our allies and partners all around the world,” Fick said. “I've been all over the Indo-Pacific in my brief tenure already. I'm going back next week. The same [is true] across the NATO alliance and everywhere else in the world, as the thing about the digital space, of course, is that it's global. And in its scope, risk federates across connected systems. Cyber insecurity in a place that may geographically seem pretty remote, if that place is connected to other places that are more strategically central, the risk swims upstream. So, cyber capacity building of our allies and partners is one of our top-most missions.”
The ambassador cites Albania as an example. Iran attacked the country’s digital assets last summer after Albania had given refuge to members of Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), an opposition group to the Iranian government.
“Albania is a NATO member,” Fick explained. “And for a long time, the United States has been advocating, around the world, for countries to digitize their government services in order to provide better services to citizens and to help cut corruption. ‘e-Albania’ was a pretty elegant response to that request so that Albanians could register to vote online and get drivers licenses and pay their taxes. And then the Iranians just thumped them.”
Fick, along with Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. representative to the United Nations, quickly went to Albania and met with the U.S. ambassador to Albania, Yuri Kim, and officials from the Albanian government, including their national cyber coordinator, Igli Tafa.
“The [visit] had a two-fold mission,” Fick stated. “The first was to remind the Iranian attackers that Albania is a member of NATO, and this is a problematic path that we don't want to go too far down.”
The second priority, he continued, was to coordinate immediate cyber assistance to Albania. The United States adroitly rolled out $25 million in cyber funds to Albania as well as digital capabilities.
“We marshaled a bunch of private sector partners to come in and work with the Albanian government,” Fick stated. “We got e-Albania back online, put basic security measures in place and then started the process of long-term capacity building.”
Given the intense cyber threat landscape that defies borders, U.S. allies and partners are clamoring for such assistance.
“So that model in Albania, we see demand for that everywhere,” he acknowledged. “We're doing something similar in Costa Rica right now, just as an example. [Our efforts] are global in scope.”
Fick emphasized the need for furthering public-private partnerships to help allies and partners, especially in cyber and emerging technologies.
“I was a CEO before,” he shared. “I built a cybersecurity software business, and I met a lot with government counterparts, and they would talk about public-private partnership, and my eyes would glaze over because it generally didn't mean anything. It really does actually mean something in this context.”
Before Russia’s unlawful invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the Ukrainian government migrated its entire government enterprise to the cloud with the help of the private sector.
“That gave them the ability to continue to communicate and provide services to citizens even when all of the towers were smoking piles of twisted metal. That actually was an extraordinary accomplishment.”