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The Future of Cybersecurity

3 February 2011

Cyberspace is both the playground and the battleground of the future. The use of information and communication technologies (ICT) is expanding across the globe and becoming increasingly central to societies. This growing cyber dependence, evident among both public and private actors, is making ICT ever more attractive targets for actors of all types looking to exploit, disturb or destroy competitors and opponents.

This Future Issue examines the future of cybersecurity as envisioned in the foresight literature. That future is one where cyberdependence continues to grow, even as cyberspace becomes more and more vulnerable. It is one in which non-state actors and public-private partnerships are increasingly central to the execution of – and to protection against – cyberattacks. And it is a future in which critical national infrastructures, such as electricity and telecommunications grids, are ever more susceptible to disruption.

Driving cybersecurity changes will be the security awareness of public and
private actors. Already acutely conscious of the risk they face, they will continue to seek out ways to insulate themselves from security threats. Any successes, however, will be temporary: technological developments will provide the targeting side with an initial advantage. The targeting side will
generally benefit from the power of surprise by applying another new method or approach. At the same time, our increasing dependence on ICT will make the payoff or impact of a successful cyberattack skyrocket.

This will have major implications for national and international security. The very definition of warfare will evolve to include cyberattacks, with virtual assaults becoming grave enough to provoke not only cyber (counter) attacks but also kinetic (conventional) responses1. As cyberattack capabilities become steadily more destructive and more widespread, the incentive for pre-emptive strike will rise. A virtual arms races will become more common. This will lead to a strengthening of calls for an international cyber arms control regime or for laws on armed cyber conflict.

The pool of cybersecurity literature is young and relatively shallow, but some things are clear: ICT will become increasingly ubiquitous, cyberspace will become more and more vulnerable, and governments will have no choice but to enter into deep partnerships with the private sector. It is these and other – sometimes surprising – findings that this Future Issue sets out to analyze.

Experts on this report

Director of the Strategic Futures Program

Erik Frinking

Erik Frinking is the Director of the Strategic Futures Program at HCSS. He holds a Master’s degree in Political Science from Leiden University.

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Director of the Security Program

Frank Bekkers

Frank Bekkers is Director of the Program Security. He is also theme leader of the Strategy and Change Program.

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