The world currently stands at a critical juncture, where the complex dynamics of sustainability, sovereignty and cybersecurity overlap. In the face of mounting environmental challenges, the focus on renewable energy, conservation and eco-friendly practices has emerged as a global priority. Simultaneously, issues of sovereignty and geopolitical tensions have taken center stage, shaping international relations and influencing the strategies of nations.
Against this backdrop of global sustainability goals and sovereign ambitions, cybersecurity occupies a pivotal role, operating in the digital lives of people, organizations and countries. As we move toward a sustainable future, it is evident that robust cybersecurity is an imperative – a fact made clear by recent events.
On the heels of the recent Israel-Palestinian conflict, The Jerusalem Post, a prominent Israeli daily, experienced a series of recent attacks that led to the crashing of its website. Hacktivists, such as infamous Killnet, a Russian hacker group, are targeting Israeli organizations following the terrorist attacks. As the conflict continues to unfold, digital warfare is spilling over critical infrastructure like banks and telecommunication systems. The world witnessed the usage of technology during the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war, where both nations embraced several technological advancements and trends, including Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), drones, Electronic Warfare Systems (EWS) and cyberattacks targeting critical infrastructure, government networks and communication systems.
These incidents highlight the nature of cybersecurity concerns in regions grappling with sovereignty issues and geopolitical tensions, where digital vulnerabilities can have real-world consequences.
Cyberattacks and their global repercussions
The risks associated with cyberattacks on sustainability initiatives are magnified in sovereign contexts, with broader implications that extend into the area of national security and global stability. Sovereign cyber conflicts can have a ripple effect on sustainable practices, such as renewable energy generation, which may contribute to energy shortages and geopolitical tensions, impacting regions beyond the source of attack.
One example is the North Korean state-sponsored espionage targeting US energy providers, which shows the disruptive consequences of cyber-attacks on energy systems. This means companies driving the energy transition that includes supply chain, utilities, renewable energy companies and service providers – have a responsibility to prioritize and mitigate cybersecurity risks.
Cyberattacks targeting sustainable practices have seen a significant uptick in recent years, according to the AT&T Cybersecurity Report 2023. The attacks have extended beyond the traditional data breaches and financial theft, posing direct threats to the infrastructure that underpins a green future.
In this landscape, the public sector has emerged as a favored target for cybercriminals. With cyberattacks becoming more sophisticated, building collaborative communities between the public and private sectors becomes crucial. Such collaboration can synchronize operations and proactively address threats to critical infrastructure, as highlighted in the report.
A week before the Russian military invaded the country, Ukraine’s parliament passed legislation to allow the government and the private sector data to be moved to the cloud. Siki Giunta, EVP and Head, CloudSmart, HCLTech, says: “Ukraine started their digital transformation before the war and accelerated it to a new level. Recognizing the need for a robust and resilient data infrastructure, Ukraine government literally moved 95 percent of all population data to a hyperscale data center in Poland.” The country now relies heavily on this data center for governance.
In the words of Henry Kissinger, Former US Secretary of State: “We are faced with the reality that modern technologies are putting countries in situations that they’ve never been in before. Nuclear powers and new military technologies, without established criteria for limitations, could spell catastrophe for humankind.”
Operational technologies as a cybersecurity battleground
Gartner, Inc. predicts that by 2025, cyber attackers will weaponize operational technology (OT) environments to successfully harm or kill humans, emphasizing the need for security and risks management leaders to prioritize real-world hazards over information theft. Asset-intensive industries like manufacturing, resources and utilities struggle to define appropriate control frameworks for OT environments, according to senior research director Wam Voster at Gartner.
Google data reveals a 300% increase in state-sponsored cyberattacks targeting users in NATO countries in 2022 compared to 2020. OT or operational technology landscapes in industrial and critical infrastructure are increasingly being targeted by evolving cyberattacks from a variety of sources. The challenge lies in the growing connectivity of OT environments, with an expanding network of sensors and devices that can become potential threat vectors.
Srinivasan Sreekumar, Practice Director - Cloud and Infrastructure Security at HCLTech, points out the challenge organizations face in accurately assessing their asset landscape and identifying the vulnerabilities in these assets. “Not every organization is at the same level, some have greater visibility than others. But the vulnerabilities that exist in these assets is a big gap where organizations have challenges,” he says.
WEF’s call to action: Cybersecurity as an integral component of ESG
The World Economic Forum (WEF) has brought cybersecurity into the spotlight by urging organizations to view it as an integral component of their ESG strategies. This call to action reflects the interplay between cybersecurity and sustainability.
WEF’s stance aligns with a growing consensus among sustainability and cybersecurity leaders, which is that the two domains must converge to ensure a resilient and sustainable future. As sovereignty, cybersecurity and sustainability takes center stage, organizations and governments must navigate this complex terrain with heightened vigilance and strategic planning. Doing so will fortify green aspirations amid evolving geopolitical complexities.