Information Technology: Threat or Opportunity?
Valdai Club Conference Hall, Tsvetnoy boulevard 16/1, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

On April 10, the Valdai Discussion Club hosted an expert discussion on international information security, in which both Russian and foreign experts took part. The moderator was Andrey Bystritskiy, Chairman of the Board of the Foundation for the Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club.

The topic of international information security has acquired particular relevance in the context of rapid scientific and technological progress. It contains both a wide range of advantages and challenges for the international community in general and Russia in particular. Igor Ashmanov, President of Kribrum JSC, a member of the Presidential Council of the Russian Federation for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, noted during the discussion that the concept of “information security” can be divided into cybersecurity (security in the technical sense) and media security (security in the media and in psychological terms among the populace). Russian legislation in the field of information security, like in other countries of the world, is undergoing development. The complexity of its creation, improvement and effective use involves many technical and other issues. This is only at the level of sovereign states, before we even speak of international platforms. “All attempts to conclude agreements at the UN and ICANN levels ended in nothing,” Ashmanov stated and explained that this is mainly prevented by the United States and its allies, because the US national legislation does not prohibit the possibility of cyberattacks against other states. On the contrary, the use of developments in the field of technology to confront other countries is included in the US national cybersecurity strategy, adopted under Donald Trump in 2018. The Pentagon's cyber strategy also explicitly states that technology is an American advantage that the United States should exploit. Against this background, Russia must safeguard its own cyber and media security, in other words, its digital sovereignty.

Despite the global situation and sanctions against Russia, our country has achieved some success in strengthening its technological sovereignty. Thus, at the national level, Russia is actively engaged in import substitution and the development of new generation quantum computers, according to Ilya Semirikov, head of the scientific group of the Russian Quantum Centre. According to him, technical developments in the cyber sphere are actively underway in Russia. It cannot be ruled out that within ten years, quantum computers will be able to crack any code, which poses significant threats. So, the time has come for post-quantum cryptography.

Let us recall that Russia was the first to recognise the risks associated with the use of information and communications technology (ICT), digitalisation and the global spread of the Internet. In 1998, Russia for the first time in the UN noted the problem of international information security, drawing attention to the need to create a fundamental document in this area under the auspices of the UN, and for more than 25 years has been the locomotive of the conceptual approaches and ideas in this area. Thanks to Russia and its partners, international cooperation to ensure information security within the BRICS framework was initiated.

The discussion participants generally agreed that at the level of the BRICS international platform, it is possible to build the digital sovereignty of the group of countries participating in the organisation. But will the BRICS members be able to reach an agreement on at least a minimum set of measures? Technically this is possible. But diplomatically?

Artur Lyukmanov, Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for International Cooperation in the Field of Information Security, and Director of the Department of International Information Security of the MFA of Russia, spoke about the possibility of developing legislation in the field of information security within the framework of international organisations. He recalled that one of the key principles of the UN Charter is respect for the sovereign equality of states, and that sovereignty should extend to technology. But we are not talking about equality at present, since the level of digital and technological development of countries is different. “Some are equal, and some are more equal,” noted Lyukmanov. For example, the United States does not even hide the fact that it dominates in the field of technology and will use ICT as a weapon against unwanted regimes, which they themselves arbitrarily designate. In their documents, they directly declare that they intend to inflict a strategic military defeat on Russia using non-kinetic means, which primarily include information technology. In this vein, Lyukmanov noted the efforts that Russia is making at the international level, conducting explanatory negotiations with the countries of the Global South and East regarding the types and nature of cyber threats emanating from other countries.

“We don’t have the technologies, they have us,” said Lyukmanov, referring not only to the gadgets themselves, but also to the developers and companies that produce content. The US Naval Institute, a major recipient of federal funds, is dedicated to implement the concept of cognitive warfare against adversaries. This is a war at the level of meaning, when concepts are replaced and we are forced to believe in something that does not exist. Even 25 years ago, Russia introduced a special item to the agenda of the UN General Assembly: “Achievements in the field of telecommunications and information in the context of international security” achieved the creation of the UN Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on security issues in the use of ICT and presented a draft for the future UN conventions in the field of information security. Every year, about a hundred countries support Russia at the UN. Now we are observing an interesting situation, which, according to Lyukmanov, can be compared with the history of the East India Company. The role of the East India Company passed to Western monopolistic enterprises, and the role of goods was taken by the ICT. To combat this state of affairs, two negotiation platforms were created at the initiative of Russia within the UN. The first one is developing regulations to combat ICT crime. This is the Ad Hoc Committee to Elaborate a Comprehensive International Convention on Countering the Use of Information and Communications Technologies for Criminal Purposes. Almost two years later, the Committee developed its first international document in the field of information security. The adoption of this document is expected this summer at the UN General Assembly. The second platform created by Russia is the UN Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG), which deals with issues of interstate cooperation. Last year, within the framework of the OEWG, the creation of a special register of contact points of competent departments for responding to computer incidents began. Russia and its partners are opposed by the United States and some other countries, which believe that no additional international legal document is required, since they apply their national law extraterritorially to issues of information security (this includes the possibility of using ICT as a weapon in relation to other countries). Russia and its partners, including the BRICS countries, take a different approach, stating that ICT at the international level should be used in accordance with international law and conditions should be created in which large producers of information and communications technologies will adhere to the letter of the law.

One of the countries that shares Russia’s position on this issue is China. The Chinese point of view was presented in detail by Shen Yi, director of the Cyberspace Management Research Centre at Fudan University of China. He is convinced that the main threat in cyberspace lies in US digital hegemony, which, of course, must be prevented. But how? Shen Yi believes it is possible to build a security system within the BRICS framework, and that this should become one of the key goals of the organisation. Member countries can share their knowledge and experience in combating cyber threats to strengthen digital sovereignty, sharing with other countries, especially less developed ones. In particular, Shen Yi noted the good dynamics of cooperation between Russia and China in preventing threats in the field of ICT.

During the discussion, it was noted more than once that “hybrid wars” and the continuous information impact on people’s consciousness are a feature of the modern world. Information and communications technologies are becoming a weapon that a number of states are seeking to use to promote their own interests. Undoubtedly, most countries in the world community are aware of the need to adopt a fundamental and comprehensive document at the international level to ensure protection in this area. Work is underway to develop such legislation, although the efforts of some countries to create a legal framework are torpedoed by others, more precisely, by the United States and its allies. In addition, technological progress is developing at an impressive pace, and the legislative framework cannot keep up with it. But maybe we shouldn’t force things on this issue? Concluding the discussion, Igor Ashmanov noted that “ChatGPT produces an intelligent “Doshirak”, that is, technologies are still quite far from surpassing humans. Therefore, there is no need to rush to develop a legislative framework in this area. All possible aspects of this broad area should be explored in order to create conditions for effectively countering the threats associated with international information security.