The world is ‘reentering an era of strategic competition’ with cyber, official says

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Cyberspace Ambassador Nathaniel Fick argued that the U.S. needs to be able to provide cybersecurity assistance to allies in a way that incorporates emerging technologies.

The U.S. needs to be able to respond quickly to the growing need for cybersecurity assistance among ally nations as digital and national security stand to increasingly intersect, according to a State Department official. 

Ambassador at Large for Cyberspace and Digital Policy Nathaniel Fick headlined a Foundation for Defense of Democracies event on Thursday, and discussed the strategic steps the U.S. will need to take to help expand cybersecurity globally. 

“I would make the argument that we are reemerging or reentering an era of strategic competition,” Fick said. “And technology broadly is the primary field of competition.”

The increasing volume of adversarial cyber incidents on countries allied with the U.S. — such as Costa Rica, whose digital infrastructure suffered an onslaught of cyberattacks in 2022 — has prompted federal officials to reexamine the nature of national and global security in the digital age. 

Fick expounded on the evolution of security threats and said the U.S. needs to continue aiding ally countries in their efforts to build a robust cybersecurity infrastructure, especially with the advent of commercialized emerging technologies. 

“What we need, in my view and our view, is the cross-cutting ability to deliver assistance in not only cybersecurity narrowly, but also digital policy and the data-rich emerging technologies like AI and quantum computing, as they increasingly converge,” he said. 

He added that responding to international incidents needs to be quicker to keep up with the speed of adversaries and their attacks, regardless of whether it was against a low- or high-income country. 

 Mark Montgomery, the director of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission 2.0, added that how much a country needs cyber resilience “is sometimes defined by how strong the networks are in your country, not necessarily how rich or poor the country is.”

Fick and the FDD’s Center of Cyber and Technology Innovation Director Annie FIxler further highlighted that, ideally, security hygiene for a country’s information and communications technology infrastructure would also be discussed, and they noted that public and private sector collaboration can help deploy trusted hardwares and softwares. 

“We can help these governments navigate their own technology choices, vendor decisions, negotiating bids because the U.S. government has scale,” Fick said. “It might be a first time interaction for these governments, but it's an iterative game for us at a global scale.”

He also added that in the U.S.’s efforts in working with any foreign government, the country demonstrates a “strong adherence” to the United Nations norms of responsible state behavior in cyberspace.

Congressional funding will ultimately dictate how the Biden administration proceeds on this issue, and Fick noted that Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Jim Risch, R-Idaho, have offered their support.