‘Explosive’ growth of digital technologies creating new potential for conflict, disarmament chief tells Security Council in first-ever debate on cyberthreats.
The explosive growth of digital technologies around the world is opening new potential domains for conflict and the ability of both State and non-State actors to carry out attacks across international borders, the United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs said today as the Security Council held its first-ever open debate on maintaining peace and security in cyberspace.
Izumi Nakamitsu pointed to a dramatic surge in malicious incidents in recent years, ranging from disinformation campaigns to the disruption of computer networks, contributing to diminishing trust and confidence among States. Particularly at risk is critical infrastructure — including financial institutions, health‑care facilities and energy grids — which rely heavily on information and communications technology (ICT) to function.
“ICT threats are increasing, but efforts are also under way to address them,” she told the Council, meeting via videoconference. She pointed in particular to the work of two bodies established by the General Assembly — the Group of Governmental Experts on advancing responsible State behaviour in cyberspace in the context of international security, and the Open-Ended Working Group on developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security. In their latest reports, both reaffirmed that international law, and the Charter of the United Nations, are applicable and essential to maintaining peace, security and stability in the ICT environment, she said.
She stressed the need for women’s participation in digital decision-making, underscored the efforts being undertaken by regional organizations, and welcomed cybersecurity initiatives in the private sector. She also noted that the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament emphasized the need to understand and address a new generation of technology which could challenge existing legal, humanitarian and ethical norms, non-proliferation and peace and security.
She went on to say that the political and technical difficulties in attributing and assigning responsibility for ICT attacks could result in significant consequences, including unintended armed responses and escalation. “These dynamics can encourage States to adopt offensive postures for the hostile use of these technologies,” she said. They could also enable criminal groups and others seeking to access potentially destabilizing capabilities with a high degree of impunity. Given the implications on international peace and security, Council engagement on this issue is paramount, she said.
In the debate that followed, Heads of Government, ministers, senior officials and representatives of the 15-member Council emphasized that cyberspace is subject to international law, including the Charter of the United Nations and the principle of State sovereignty. Several speakers emphasized the need to close the digital divide between nations and peoples, while others warned States against taking unilateral actions.