Digital Summit - IGF 2021: the rapid growth of the internet increases the risk of cyber attacks

M. Kmieciński/PAP

It is estimated that the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the digital revolution by seven years. One aspect of this rapid development has been the development of new types of cybercrimes. The fight against them will require strong actions over the borders. Cyber security was the main subject of the last day of the UN Digital Summit IFG 2021 in Katowice, Poland. 

The first plenary session focused on the need to build secure cyberspace. Sheetal Kumar from Global Partners Digital emphasized during the session how important it is for governments and NGOs to cooperate in this regard. 


"There is a need for closer cooperation in ensuring global cyber security. The introduction of clear and effective standards for responding to online threats requires a more extensive discussion. It is also important to remember that this is not about stifling freedom of acting online but about responding effectively to the actions of cybercriminals," said Sheetal Kumar.

As Henri Verdier, France's ambassador for digital affairs said during the discussion, today the main online threats are "the imbalance in cyberspace and the unequal position of nation-states online, the use of the Internet as a tool to spread disinformation and cyberattacks, and the restriction of online freedom by large corporations."

"Another, the fourth, potential threat is when states, to combat cyber threats, respond repressively and threaten the freedom and openness of the Internet," said Mr. Verdier. According to him, Europe should set the framework regulating cyberspace, and for that, stronger cooperation is needed.

"Recently, the number of attacks targeting critical infrastructure, including hospitals and telecommunications networks has increased," said Craig Jones, who oversees the cybercrime program at Interpol.

According to him, during the pandemic new types of threats and cybercrimes have surfaced and the perpetrators have become more aggressive. For example, more and more ransomware hacking attacks are being recorded involving a hacker who blocks access to data and demands a ransom for access.

"These attacks, observed around the world, very often use the latest technologies, virtual currencies, or darknet. To effectively combat these types of threats, global coordination is needed. Law enforcement has a very important role to play here, it's about impeding the mechanisms used by cybercriminals," pointed out Mr. Jones.

Effective prosecution of cybercriminals was also discussed at another plenary session. It was dominated by representatives of the Best Practice Forum Cybersecurity. This is an expert council functioning at the UN. "We try to check whether the standards and legal provisions developed by various countries actually work in the fight against cyber security threats," said Marcus Kummer from the Best Practice Forum Cybersecurity.

His colleague, Pablo Hinojosa, reported that this year, the Forum examined 36 cybersecurity legal standards from around the world.

"Our analysis shows that most of them, 86 percent, refer to general cooperation and 69 percent to guaranteeing human rights," said Pablo Hinojosa.

As Mallory Knodel pointed out, the work of the Best Practice Forum Cybersecurity also analyzed the " major cyber incidents."

"We examined incidents that could have significantly impacted people's lives. We want to answer the question of whether the standards implemented so far would have been able to prevent them," she added.

The dynamic development of the Internet during the pandemic proved to be a kind of "game-changer" for all its users - businesses, pupils and students, officials and individuals. This broadly defined digitization of everyday life was the topic of another of Friday's discussions. As Sandra Hoferichter of the EuroDIG platform, who moderated the discussion, noted, during the time of isolation it is the Internet that has proven to be our most effective and often only communication channel.

"The need to develop and spread digital solutions is evidenced by the success of the Digital Summit that ends today, whose hybrid formula enabled many people not only to follow but also to actively participate in the discussions held here and to work out concrete solutions," noted Sandra Hoferichter. 

During the panel, Internet users from around the world shared their experiences and observations about the directions the digital world is taking in the era of the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to the obvious benefits of this process, such as the thrive of e-commerce or e-education, they also pointed to the development of challenges that the entire global community must face today.

"The growing attachment of more and more people to the Internet, or even the necessity to use the Internet as sometimes it is the only mean of communication and work, means that possible cyber-attacks or hate speech incidents may hit us much harder than in the past. We cannot consider the Internet to be a perfect tool, we should be aware of its 'bad' or 'ugly' sides every day so that we can effectively protect ourselves from them." emphasized Laura Palacios representing student organizations from Colombia. 

Data presented at the Digital Summit in Katowice prove that the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the digital revolution by seven years, and with the help of artificial intelligence (AI), companies can increase their productivity by up to 30%. By 2024, the number of voice assistants (bots) is expected to reach 8.4 billion, which is more than the population of the entire world. Artificial intelligence is also entering more boldly into public administration offices, becoming an integral part of e-government development. The subject connected with the use of AI tools to improve public services dominated one of the final panels of IGF 2021 in Katowice. 

"Our office is currently designing an IT tool based on AI, the aim is to assist employees in analyzing contract templates used by entrepreneurs for prohibited clauses. It will help in preliminary verification of much more data than it is currently possible and will open new opportunities for active and spot elimination of irregularities on a large scale, which will contribute to improved consumer protection," explained Jacek Marczak, Deputy Director of the Bydgoszcz branch of the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK). 

As experts reminded, every second of macro-scale savings in the work of hundreds of thousands of administrative employees brings huge financial savings for the country.

"Public sector organizations in Central Europe have begun to recognize the potential of AI technologies but their application is still limited to individual areas. In the future, we expect a wider use of AI to support the analysis of complex socio-economic processes in search of new approaches and solutions. Even before the pandemic, we estimated that AI would have an increasingly widespread impact on our lives, also as citizens or petitioners in offices, and now we see this process accelerating,” assessed Bob Wouters from the eLAB project within the European Commission.

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