State Department International Cybersecurity Strategy: Coalition-Building to Beat China to the Punch

by | May 15, 2024

Several branches of the US government have issued a cybersecurity strategy since 2023, and the State Department is the latest up with its International Cyberspace and Digital Policy Strategy . This paper focuses heavily on how the US will engage existing allies going forward, as well as smaller and more neutral players that might be wooed by China or even Russia with promises of aid package fixes for their immediate problems.

Threats posed by cloud, manufacturing, AI and quantum computing touched on by State Department cybersecurity strategy

The cybersecurity strategy touches on a number of different areas of defense concern going forward, even the need for the US to “re-shore” some manufacturing of its critical electronic components or at least move their fabrication to more friendly and stable parts of the world. It also notes the threat of quantum computing emerging, and the country’s efforts to get other countries to follow the NIST’s lead in selecting algorithms to serve as the new cryptographic security standard going forward.

But naturally, much of the time is spent on current issues: growing attacks on cloud infrastructure around the world, and the looming potential threats that AI presents. Ransomware and extortion gangs are one of those pressing threats, particularly with their new affinity for health services and other components of critical infrastructure. The cybersecurity strategy notes plans to put added pressure on the UN to develop a cybercrime treaty.

State Department’s vision of a “global ecosystem” tied together by “digital solidarity”

The cybersecurity strategy makes clear the US government hopes to be at the head of a global consensus that exerts influence over everything from the internet’s undersea cables on up in the digital sphere. This is articulated in terms of three central principles that underpin the strategy: forging new international partnerships and law along with promotion of vital data security and privacy practices, all backed by more specific diplomacy on the issue and more foreign aid for smaller countries that are having trouble keeping up.

Increasing threats to critical infrastructure from both state-backed and private criminal sources seem to be the main driver of this push. Reports of foreign APT groups lurking in electrical and water utilities have raised fears of “everything everywhere” being shut down in the case of a military conflict, primarily if China should opt to try to take Taiwan by force. But even if the world somehow returns to a war-free state, the cybercrime sector is there to pick up the slack with their increasingly brazen attacks that disregard danger to life and limb.

The new cybersecurity strategy is just one in a chain of actions by the Biden administration, which has made clear that defense from digital foreign incursions is one of its top priorities. The White House issued a similar paper in mid-2023, as did the Defense Department later that year. The one big aspect that remains missing is a digital privacy and security law at the federal level, something that looks to still be on pause at least until the results of the 2024 election are in.

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