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Speeches and articles

Securing Cyberspace Secures Our Freedom and Prosperity

December 20, 2011

Op-ed for EATA – NATO supplemental – Cyber Security / Internet Freedom

By Ambassador Michael C. Polt

The Internet and social media continue to transform our societies, the ways we relate to one another, how we do business, how we entertain ourselves, and, here in Estonia at least, how you elect your political leadership.  The impact on the way we provide for our common security and uphold the rule of law in our societies has been no less profound.  As instantaneous communication permeates more and more of our daily lives and allows us to remotely manage a greater amount of tasks, the traditional national boundaries and jurisdictions that bring order to our states and our alliances now sometimes create obstacles for our security. 

Securing cyberspace for the benefit of open, democratic societies is one of the preeminent challenges of the 21st century.   NATO, as the most successful collective defense organization in history and a bulwark of freedom and democracy, is uniquely positioned to help forge a consensus on how best to create the cooperative networks that are needed to foster pro-active cyber security that will insure we reap the benefits of the internet while we manage its risks.

The barriers to greater cooperation exist not only between our nations, but within our own societies, between institutions within our own governments, and among the public and private sectors, as well.  Only by concerted action among responsible national and international entities can we move quickly enough to confront the bad actors that seek to do us harm in cyberspace.  Slow response times, the lack of coordinated responses, and in quite a few unfortunate cases, the lack of cooperation between countries, are all factors that facilitate cyber crime and cyber attacks. 

The strong U.S. – Estonian cyber crime collaboration is an excellent example of how to confront this threat and reduce the advantages that cross- border cyber crime presents to hackers and other criminals.  Starting  with the infamous case involving RBS Worldpay and the eventual extradition of Sergei Tsurikov, and more recently with the success of Operation Ghost Click, we are seeing tangible  gains from the “the good guys” working together.  Such success does not come about without a serious commitment of time and resources.  While even greater cooperation will need to take many creative forms, the physical presence of U.S. law enforcement assets in Estonia from both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Secret Service are doing much to stop criminals in their tracks.

Following the cyber attacks on Estonia in spring 2007, the U.S. was quick to realize the threat this new phenomenon posed to NATO.  By November of that year, we provided the first international specialist to the Estonian Cooperative Cyber Defense Center, which soon became an accredited NATO center of excellence.  On November 15 of this year, we formalized that commitment and officially joined the Center, and we will now begin to look for ways to enhance our partnership.  The NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence (CCD CoE) has a critical role to play in helping all NATO Allies boost the level of cyber security, not only for their military networks, but for the critical civilian infrastructure that undergirds our security and prosperity.  We will work with Estonia to expand the pool of members and collaborators at the CCD CoE, both among NATO allies and contributing partners, to include  private companies, universities, think tanks, and  non-NATO countries. 

The CCD CoE represents the type of creative collaboration that we must foster in order to confront the complex challenges and threats we find in cyberspace.   Our vision of cyberspace, articulated in President Obama’s International Strategy for Cyberspace, calls for an open, interoperable, secure, and reliable information and communications infrastructure that supports international trade and commerce, strengthens international security, and fosters free expression and innovation.  Even though the internet has brought profound positive change to our lives, it has not significantly altered our rights and responsibilities as citizens of open, democratic societies.  The U.S. and Estonia both have a major stake in insuring that cyberspace as a domain remains secure and supports our freedom and prosperity.