In-Brief: Geopolitical Fractures on Digital Earth

Following numerous high-profile attacks, the threat of a cyber attack is taking the world by storm while fracturing security across geopolitical lines. How are digital trends influencing the physical world?


Today’s political-digital landscape is a blur of dotted, ambiguous borders, spyware markets and shifting allegiances. It is a world in which few laws govern and even fewer protect and defend. It is also a world in which governments and non-state actors share the same space, talent, tools, and weapons.

This is the new normal.

Old cloak and dagger spycraft has been exchanged for cutting-edge spyware, and the recent exposé of the Italian-firm Hacking Team confirms such claims. Fundamentally, the revelations unveiled a global digital arms race for cyber superiority that few knew existed.

In an effort to reign in the digital Schengen zone, new US cybersecurity legislation like the CyberSecurity Information Sharing Act intends to foster a culture of information exchange between organizations and the intelligence community. But, according to cyber journalist Brian Krebs, CISA might be more of a knee-jerk act that fails to gather metrics about if and how this information will be shared. Others say the bill would fall short of appropriately protecting the individual and keeping the organizations that cache this data semi-liable.

In the meantime, a wealth of firms around the world (e.g. VUPEN, Zerodium, Exodus Intelligence) are likely to continue conducting zero-day research, incentivized by little control of and high demand for technological weapons.


The takeaways from this new digital landscape include far more than shock and awe.

First, all of this comes in the wake of the 6 October abolition of Safe Harbor (by the European Court of Justice), a decade-and-a-half standing agreement that facilitated a “transatlantic digital economy” of US and European user data between the two sides. Now the flow of information will likely slow to a drip.

Takeaway one: cyber security is fracturing across geopolitical lines.

Second, it appears incumbent upon all digital netizens everywhere to protect themselves. The three largest hacks in recent memory are that of Anthem (80 million account credentials stolen), Ashley Madison (32 million accounts), and OPM (21 million accounts). Instead of picturing foreign spies or unwanted hackers walking out of the door of an organization with stacks of passwords and sensitive data, the virtual nature of the game leaves victims half-stunned with little recourse.

Takeaway two: the new normal necessitates new security, both public and private.

Third, it is likely that governments would benefit from establishing first and second order implications of digital provocation and exploitation. Without clear red-lines, a digital foray into a nation’s IP space could translate into a kinetic retaliation, seen most vividly during a US drone strike against a TeamP0is0n operator in August.

Takeaway three: cyberwarfare, whether tangible or intangible, is altogether real and must be demarcated


In sum, our new digital age is not conducive to security and no longer constrained by geography. Rather, it is governed by vague and often unobserved policies that leave individuals and nations, alike, in a state of uncertainty.

Past is not prologue, here. 


Photo courtesy of Fox