Author: Miguel Ángel Barrios – 26/06/2019
Cyber-geopolitics: a strategic analysis from our America
Last Sunday, June 16, an unprecedented blackout occurred, as is public knowledge, which caused cuts in the electricity grid in Argentina (throughout the country except in Tierra del Fuego, which is not integrated into the national electrical interconnection system), Uruguay, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay.
Beyond the fact that the Secretary of Energy, Gustavo Lopetegui, discards the cyberattack hypothesis, no serious explanation has emerged after what happened.
The National Electricity Administration of Paraguay said that the failure began with an event that is still inexplicable in Argentina’s electricity grid. The cut underscored the vulnerability of cross-border networks to local breakdowns and as we know interrupted the power supply to millions of people in the second largest economy in South America. Due to the integrated nature of the regional network, the disruptions also affected Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay.
The United States is intensifying the digital incursions into Russia’s electricity grid, in a strategy of aggressively using cyber tools and doing so under the never-demonstrated argument of the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI that Russia has inserted malicious programs that could sabotage the power plants, oil pipelines or water supplies of the United States in any future conflict with that country.
That is to say that we are in a moment of a kind of “digital cold war” between Washington and Moscow, the electrical networks and their hacking seem to become a new battlefield of international politics. In the distant 2009 (distant by the dynamics of world politics) we warned in advance in our “Diccionario Latinoamericano de Seguridad y Geopolítica” ( Latin American Dictionary of Security and Geopolitics,Biblos editorial) that the new wars of the future, which are already today, were two:
A- Wars over natural resources
B- The Cyber Wars
Now we learn that Donald Trump has just approved cyber attacks against Iran’s missile systems through his country’s Cyber Command, as reported by several American media, including The Washington Post and The New York Times.
This requires us to rethink from the geopolitics in South America the traditional dimensions of it, according to the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution in terms of generating strategic policies to strengthen the vulnerability in which we find ourselves.
We can say very quickly that geopolitics is fundamentally about territory and power with a historical understanding. And since Geopolitics deals with history, we must give it a sequence in the analysis of geopolitical domains according to its historical appearance:
– Earth: it is the terrestrial space, the primal place where humanity was born and developed. Humans are terrestrial beings, we are born and live on earth. In urban environments, territorial political units were born around crops and grass for livestock that sustain human life. On Earth, mineral and energy resources and their freshwater resources are also exploited.
– Sea: the development and expansion of human communities converted the maritime space into a place of transit and fishing exploitation. But also through merchant and war fleets European territories were created and expanded throughout the world from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, just as it is still happening with the power of the United States.
– Air: continuing the technological development, air navigation arrived and we can affirm that air technology is a mandatory requirement to make use of this domain. It is currently an essential requirement for the Armed Forces of any State and of course for commercial civil aviation, since it is the fastest means of transport in the world capable of interoceanic flights.
– Cosmos / space: as a culmination to the technological development of air navigation in the mid-twentieth century a new domain, outer space or cosmos was opened. If the airspace necessarily needed an important technological development, the cosmos represents a superior step. Despite the fact that, with the exception of astronauts, few humans have been in the cosmos, their current great impact lies in the orbiting satellites, which allows a communication and surveillance model never seen in history as mentioned by Enrique Refoyo in his still unpublished work “Cibergeopolitica, el quinto elemento del nuevo mundo” (Cyber-geopolitics, the fifth element of the new world).
In short, if you do not understand the complete gameboard with all its conditions, you cannot get to understand reality.
In the world system of the 21st century as it was already suffered by Argentina, and first Venezuela in South America in the first hybrid war of our sub-continent, cyberspace appears as the fifth dimension of geopolitics, that is, it emerges as a new branch of geopolitics, cyber-geopolitics.
The cyber-space is a new world where the computer technology necessary to connect to the internet is increasingly cheaper and accessible. In past decades the technological development only allowed the connection by computers, but the current development allows to connect to the internet from multiple computing devices such as laptops, tablets, mobile telephones or the latest appliances, (the internet of things). The disappearance of distances in cyberspace creates a fading of borders and this new world is fully human, since its existence depends on the technology developed by humans themselves. If the human factor is removed or the technology that sustains them is removed cyberspace will be destroyed
Cyber-geopolitics is basically the geopolitics that takes place in cyberspace where the conditions as we have seen are very different in relation to real geography. Here nothing of the known is the same, neither the distance nor the times nor the border nor the identity, everything changes. If two countries or governments are rivals or enemies, it will be reflected in cyberspace and serious clashes can occur in cyberspace as well as in the real world.
A new form of dependency is born, which is the cybernetic dependence in the case that our countries do not develop a strategic project of sovereignty in cyberspace, which is impossible without a National-Continental Project.
In cyber-geopolitics, the possibilities of intelligence and sabotage actions, information campaigns and disinformation can be seen in greater depth.
A cyber attack is defined as the intrusion into a system or device to destroy or handle it, an attack on public services or even the security of a country. For example, if the security of the critical infrastructure is compromised in a cyber attack, the electricity grid may be affected, as happened in Argentina.
We can find 5 reasons for an attack for now:
1- Cyberespionage: information theft
2- Cybercrime: economic benefit
3- Cyberterrorism: provocation of damage
4- Cyberactivism: social or political vindication
5- Cyberdefense: superiority in cyberspace.
We must point out that the more cyberdependence there is, the more devastating effect an attack against an objective can have. In the case of Argentina, the absence of a National Defense policy due to the greater absence of a national project makes the issue more worrisome, which, by consensus, must be part of the country’s strategic agenda.
In short, in didactic form we will be putting together a small strategic glossary to go internalizing cyber-geopolitics:
CYBER-SECURITY is the protection of information assets through the treatment of threats that put information at risk. It is a set of political tools, safeguards, guidelines and methods of risk management, actions, training, best practices, insurance and technologies, which can be used to protect the assets of a State or organization and users in the cyber-environment.
The CYBER-DEFENSE is the set of defense, exploitation and attack capabilities that allow carrying out operations in cyberspace in order to preserve or gain freedom of action in cyberspace of military interest, prevent or hinder its use by the adversary and contribute to achieve superiority.
CYBER-THREATS are all those disruptions or malicious manipulations that affect technological elements and cover a wide range of actions. They are characterized by their diversity affecting almost all the areas of National Security, such as National Defense, Economic Security or the Protection of Critical Infrastructures and do not distinguish borders.
The CYBER-CRIMINALITY is the set of illicit activities committed in cyberspace that has as its object the elements and computer systems or other legal rights, provided that in its planning, development or execution the use of technological tools is determinant.
CBER-SPYING is a relatively inexpensive, fast and with less risk than traditional espionage given the difficulty of attribution of authorship.
The trends that we notice in world politics in the coming years are:
– State-sponsored cyber-attacks will increase
– Cybercrime will increase
– The strategic objective is to dominate the cloud
– There will be cyber attacks aimed at the infrastructure of a State or organizations.
For these reasons we consider that in Our America, retaking the ever-present geopolitics of continentalism, it is no longer possible to dispense the incorporation of cyber-geopolitics as perhaps the most strategic dimension of geopolitics.
What happened with the electrical interruption in Argentina and globally with actors of global power indicate that path.
Reproduced with kind permission of the Author. Previously published at Centro de Estudios en Strategia y Politicas Publicas – CEEYPP – Translated from Spanish into English by Juan Martín González Cabañas