Information and communication technologies continue to transform our world, bringing enormous benefits in key areas ranging from scientific research and education to basic human services like communications, health, transport and commerce.
As the United Nations specialized agency for ICTs, ITU has long been a vocal champion of the power of technology to improve lives and create a more open and equitable society.
But as an ICT standards-setter whose membership not only spans 191 countries, but more than 700 of the world’s leading ICT hardware and software developers and operators, we are also well aware that a dark side has emerged. Cyberspace has given rise to cybercrime, with highly organized criminal gangs targeting ordinary individuals – and, increasingly disturbingly – children.
The dark side of the Net is a frightening place. We are already seeing the Web used for identify theft, fraud, spam, illicit gambling and pornography of the most repellent kind.
Independent agencies estimate that there are over 40,000 different viruses on the Internet worldwide. Spyware programmes, which collect personal information from users’ PCs without their consent, are now believed to infect more than 80 per cent of all business computers worldwide.
Identity theft is rampant, and is beginning to pose a serious threat to the Internet’s ongoing viability as a commercial platform. In the US alone, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently estimated that around 10 million US consumers each year now fall victim to some form of identity theft.
Spam, too, is on the rise, and cost businesses an estimated 100 billion US dollars globally in 2007. Global watchdog Spamhaus blocks more than 50 billion email spam messages every day, many of which are selling fraudulent goods, or involve financial scams, or are attempts to incite recipients to supply personal details that will be used for ID theft. Spam sent by infected zombie PCs already accounts for around three quarters of global email traffic – and as many as one million new machines are believed to be infected every day.
In today’s knowledge-based society, information and communication technology serves as the vital engine for every other economic sector. It is also a growing and vital element of our children’s education, and increasingly their platform of choice for interpersonal communications and entertainment. If we are to build trust in public networks, foster the safe adoption of ICTs by our youth, and extend the enormous benefits of new technologies to the hundreds of millions still unconnected worldwide, urgent action must be taken.
In May 2007, ITU took the lead by launching the Global Cybersecurity Agenda. The GCA’s role is to draw on the work and experience of existing initiatives in countries around the world to create a practical, workable global framework for combating the scourge of cybercrime and cyber-terrorism.
If these issues are complex, they are also very much international. Cyberspace has no constraining frontiers that prevent criminals from plying their nefarious trade wherever they please. All countries are implicated, and all are at risk. To paraphrase the British poet John Donne, ‘no country is an island’.
As an agency that boasts a long and successful history of forging public-private sector consensus on the way the world manages globally shared ICT resources such as satellite orbits and radiofrequency spectrum, ITU is ideally placed to broker global agreement on an international set of cybersecurity principles and best practice that countries around the world can follow.
To that end, in 2007 I set up a High Level Experts Group comprising over 100 leading authorities from government, private industry, international and regional organizations, academia and the scientific community at large. Designed to ensure all stakeholders have a voice in determining the GCA’s priorities and strategies, this Group was charged with developing a Global Strategic Report and a set of recommendations spanning five key work areas – encompassing legislation, technical and organizational issues, capacity building, and international cooperation.
The Group delivered its report at its third meeting, which was held in Geneva on 26 June. This report will form the basis of ongoing work at an international level, as well as serving as a vital resource for governments and national and regional authorities in defining effective actions to counter cyber threats.
I will also be presenting some of the principal outcomes of the High Level Experts Group and the achievements of the Global Cybersecurity Agenda to ITU Council in November this, year, with a view to strengthening ITU efforts in key areas, and promoting even more productive global cooperation.
So, after 12 months of deliberation, we are now ready to move to the next phase, where talk will be replaced by action. Support from the international community has already been extremely positive. Through the GCA, dialogue, information sharing and alliances have already begun between members of the HLEG – some of whom have never previously worked together. The unique, pluralistic framework provided by the GCA has created a common understanding among diverse organizations and companies about how all stakeholders could contribute to achieving common goals. By working together, we greatly increase our chances of achieving rapid progress on a global level.
Momentum is building fast. Key developments over the past two months alone include an agreement for collaboration with IMPACT, the global initiative launched by Malaysia’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, which has volunteered its services and infrastructure, and offered to serve as one of the GCA physical homes.
The participants of the Third WSIS Action Line C5 meeting in May this year also gave their strong endorsement for the GCA as the framework for international cooperation in cybersecurity. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr Henning Wegener, Chairman of the Permanent Monitoring Panel on Information Security from the World Federation of Scientists, for his active participation during this meeting and for his interest in supporting ITU’s GCA initiative.
ITU is now fielding a growing number of requests for active collaboration from governments and regional organizations, as well as from leading ICT developers and manufacturers.
And we have just welcomed Burkina Faso’s President, Blaise Compaoré, as our second Patron after President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, a Nobel Price Winner.
Most importantly, we are now seeing activities intensify in the vital area of child protection. The Web can be a pretty dangerous neighbourhood for children, who are often sent out into cyberspace alone and unprotected simply because their parents and educators haven’t understood the risks.
While much good work has been achieved by local interest groups at a national level, an international approach will be essential to giving our children the protection they need. That’s why ITU will be shortly be launching Global Cybersecurity for Children, a multi-stakeholder coalition under the GCA framework dedicated to undertaking concrete actions for the protection of children online.
As scientists, as parents and as Net citizens yourselves, I’m sure I can count on your support, as we strive to find effective ways of transforming the outer reaches of the online world from a lawless frontierland to a safe and reliable place to play, to do business, and to pursue our research.
•Speech from Dr. Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General at the World Federation of Scientists International Seminars on Planetary Emergencies, Erice, Italy.
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