By Aliaksei Hapeyeu, master’s degree student from Shandong University
Cyberspace in the post-digital era has become not only a tool, but also a domain where people live, work, and relax. It is not bad because the development of cyber technologies underlies current progress. However, risks go hand-in-hand with opportunities. Systems interdependently connect, which increases the vulnerability of disruption to whole networks. The hostile states and non-state actors may use the advantage of cheap storing and transmitting information for their own purposes. Furthermore, access to the Internet and its faculties is becoming easier (Nus.edu.sg, 2020). The diffusion of power is happening now and gives some actors incredible power to influence people’s minds and shape the national role and values — the core elements of national security. The purpose of this paper is to point the problem zones of current cyberspace, connect it with national security, and focus on the necessity of deep research of this phenomenon.
We consider the following questions: 1) What is the post-digital era? 2) What is cyber literacy and its connection to the post-digital era? 3) What is the significance of cyber literacy in national security strategy?
Not digital immigrants, but digital citizens
Since the end of the XX century, we started using computers and the Internet as a tool for extracting useful and necessary information, mastering it (transmitting or receiving), as access to both mastered knowledge and any information about the plans set by humanity. These achievements made it possible to create systems with a complex technical structure that allowed processing huge amounts of information compared to previous years. As a result, the method of production, lifestyle, and value systems were changed.
The digital sphere was characterized by the creation and improvement of hyper communications, which included numerous mobile operators, connection speed technologies, as well as communication programs that have become prerequisites for the development of the Internet industry and cloud technologies, the emergence of new forms of information representation, i.e. the appearance of a contrasting border between the phases of social strata. Due to the rapid development of information technologies, humanity was taking great steps to improve the information world, making the distances between countries (people) minimal, simplifying people’s lives through various electronic devices. It was an Information Revolution where people migrated to a new, digital, reality.
However, we no longer use the cyber domain as a tool. Today we use cybersphere as space where people live, work, and communicate with one another. Bitcoin, transnational transactions, Forex trading all take place in cyberspace. From a socio-cultural standpoint, we also observe a sizeable presence of online volunteering, distance internships, or online courses. Mass media has migrated from traditional channels to online platforms like YouTube and Twitch. Sitting in the comfort of one’s home, we can even travel the world via a virtual tour of Versailles or visit ancient Chinese temples. Conversely, digital disruption of an electric station is easier and cheaper than physically destroying infrastructure. Moreover, virtual operations can be executed in all areas of military warfare: in the air, on land, on the sea, and even in space (Nus.edu.sg, 2020).
In addition to it, the post-digital epoch is characterized by increasing technology personalization, mobile apps, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and quantum computing, increasing the role of respected and high-quality research centers, and the emergence of a new generation of more trained workforce that is constantly expanding its capabilities due to technology. The number of Internet users in the world has grown to 4.54 billion (We Are Social, n.d.), where mobile phones now account for more than half of the time we spend online — 50.1%. Recent data from GlobalWebIndex shows that we use apps in almost all areas of our lives — when we talk to friends and family, lie on the couch, manage finances, exercise, or build romantic relationships. Moreover, the average person spends more than 8 hours in cyberspace today, 1/3 of a day (GlobalWebIndex, 2019).
As a result, the importance of technologies in our lives has reached new heights, and people are spending more and more time on the cyberspace. Devices and their applications are no longer just an auxiliary work tool, but a part of the citizens’ lifestyle. We live in the cyber domain as well as in the real physical world. We have become citizens of the virtual world.
New cyber literacy
From the technical standpoint, the main enemy of any state and company is not a brilliant hacker-pro, but an illiterate employee/citizen who goes to all the links that come to the email mindlessly clicks on advertising banners rummages through dubious sites during working hours. As a result, it could steal information about customers, transactions, monitor conversations, and clutter the browser with ads. It has become much easier now because people are always in cyberspace.
I conducted a survey to see whether people are aware of cyber threats (account hacking, identity theft, bullying) through mobile apps (one of the key elements of the post-digital age). Respondents were people at the age of 18-64, working not in IT-sphere. Among 386 surveyed 41% are aware of it, 13% have never thought about it, and 46% unaware of the risk of cyberthreat, while 92% of the surveyed aware of cyber threats via computers.
Table 1. Awareness of cyber threats via mobile apps and computers
|I do not know||13%||5%|
Furthermore, the more information we have, the more we rely on so-called reputational methods of evaluation. The paradox is that the incredibly increased access to information and knowledge that we have today does not give us new opportunities and does not make us cognitively autonomous. It only forces us to rely even more on other people’s judgments and assessments about the information that has fallen on us. Information is only valuable if it has already been filtered, evaluated, and commented on by others. In this sense, reputation today becomes the central pillar of the post-digital age. The way the authority of knowledge is built today makes us depend on the inevitably distorted judgments of other people, most of whom we don’t even know.
GlobalWebIndex reports that 90% of Internet users between the ages of 16 and 64 now watch online videos every month, which, if applied to the total number of Internet users in the world, would amount to more than half of the world’s population. Moreover, 42% of users faced online insults, 32% – with the spread of rumors, 16% – with threats of physical violence (GlobalWebIndex, 2019). Carriers of extremist ideas are radicalized on YouTube, and social networks encourage the polarization of political views. Recommendation algorithms (they show what you will be interested in based on information about you and your browsing history), which work on all popular resources, contribute to the spread of such content. The main terrorist threat in the United States is people who are radicalized by a variety of ideologies that they have learned from the Internet.
The best protection, in this case, is not to set strict regulations but to anticipate the situation in advance. We should train citizens in at least the simplest defense techniques, also known as cyber literacy – the basics of information security, following which people can protect their data, privacy, money, the flow of information, and the device itself. People know how to behave in the real world and how to use computers and the Internet, but we do not know how to live there. Cyberspace is a new domain for the organization of human life that makes certain requirements for it. An adult citizen in the post-digital age should understand the reconstruction of the reputational path of the information received, evaluate the intentions of those who distribute it and calculate the plans of the authorities that confirm its authenticity. Similarly, people should know how to find, install, and work with apps to protect against cyber threats in the post-digital age.
Moreover, we should move away from the “my community first” approach. The threats that arise today require joint action. The sooner communities start creating security partnerships that reflect their participation in the overall ecosystem, the faster they will start building a more sustainable society. In an ecosystem-based world, security is no longer seen as protecting one organization-it concern, everyone.
Post-digital time is a continuation, or new version, of digital time. The essence of the time is that radical changes in society begin to occur in less than a generation. We must accept that new challenges arise not once a decade, but every year, or even every month. The number and range of problems that need to be urgently addressed will continuously grow and require appropriate new knowledge and skills of the person. One of them should be cyber literacy in the post-digital world.
The foundation of any state is people and values. Almost any type of human activity has an axiological basis since values perform a regulating and goal-setting function in the life of an individual. Through innovation companies and governments are able to use cyberspace to develop a deep understanding of their audience and build a permanent, personalized relationships with individuals based on their unique technological identity. Everyone knows that the Internet brings society together on a global level: it is used for creating and developing businesses, for importing and exporting goods, for recreation and relaxation, for searching for data and any information
Unfortunately, we live in a world where states and non-state actors focus on undermining the basis of their competitors. It can be done through changing the national role of the elites, shaping the ideas of the people, and influencing the inner forces of the state.
In post-digital time the role of cyberspace in shaping opinions and values is enormous. It is an area where cyber-attack can be used to produce effects similar to kinetic weapons, and where the manipulation of information and decision-making can have effects that are far more dangerous, disrupting not only virtual domains but also negatively affecting the real world. Individual users and authors of blogs, extremists, and hostile political parties have the opportunity to influence the audience via the cyber area where we spend practically half of our life. The focus is the dissemination of specially selected information (disinformation). It is carried out by sending emails; organizing newsgroups; creating sites for the exchange of opinions; posting information on individual pages or in electronic versions of periodicals and network broadcasting (broadcasts of radio and TV stations). An example of this is a series of civil protests in the USA in 2011 (web.archive.org, 2013). Its organizing force was the social network Facebook and the microblog Twitter. It was from there that anti-government slogans and calls for civil disobedience were heard.
The most common way to use cyberspace in the interests of the conflicts is to replace the information content of sites, which consists of replacing pages or their individual elements as a result of hacking. Such actions are taken mainly to draw attention to the attacking side, demonstrate their capabilities, or are a way of expressing a certain political position. In addition to direct page substitution, it is widely used to register sites of opposite content in search engines using the same keywords, as well as redirecting (replacing) links to another address, which leads to the opening of specially prepared pages by the opposing party.
We should highlight the so-called semantic attacks, which consist in hacking pages and then carefully (without noticeable traces of hacking) placing deliberately false information on them. Such attacks are usually carried out on the most frequently visited information pages, the content of which users fully trust.
Another way to use the Internet in the interests of information warfare is to disable or reduce the effectiveness of the functioning of the structural elements of the network. The most commonly used ways to reduce the effectiveness of its individual elements are DOS attack and the introduction of computer viruses. So, the military Department of Taiwan has created about 1 thousand such viruses, which in the event of a crisis can disable the computer systems of the PRC. Their ability to break through the telecommunications network of the “enemy” was tested during the exercise.
As well as in the physical world, in the virtual domain of our surroundings, people, channels, articles, and websites shape our mentality. Reasonable people understand that a company of neo-Nazi on the street will not do any good but continue sitting on the extremist channels. Conscious citizens realize that believing tabloids with poor evidence and getting free money on the street is non-credible but go on reading recommendation articles and click on strange ads called “SEND US YOUR DATA AND GET FREE MONEY”. We are extremely vulnerable right now because we do not have the skills required to correctly identify the information needed to perform a specific task or solve a problem. As a result, we are exposed to technical and informational attacks and, therefore, our values can be shaped and data can be stolen. It leads to social disintegration, and national security suffers.
Post-digital time is transforming modern civilization, and new technologies require a change in mentality. Currently, the world community is undergoing a transformation, correlated with the change of epochs and cultures. Today goods, services, and even the environment of people are individually configured. Companies and states focus on each person in every aspect of their lives, shaping the reality in which they live. We are living in a post-digital time when mobility and portability, simple user interfaces, and easy accessibility to the Internet, including the use of cloud services and open web standards, as well as mobile applications with the ability to seamlessly synchronize information between different devices take place. At such critical moments, the issue of security as a basic need is always acute – the new replaces the established old and at the stage of its origin brings with it something uncontrolled and unmanageable, since the mechanisms for controlling and managing this new have not yet been formed. That is why cyberlitarecy in post-digital time is so significant and must become a part of the culture of modern civilization.
Our efforts should be aimed at developing knowledge in the field of cybersecurity, knowledge of its basic rules, and following them every day at the level of habits that become a condition for successful counteraction to cybercriminals. But it is impossible to instill lasting knowledge and form rules that a person will follow in their daily life if they do not understand why they need this knowledge and if society does not share their value and following them is atypical for the environment in which they live. Therefore, it is important not only to raise awareness but also to create a culture of cyber literacy.
The virtual world can significantly influence current issues in the physical world and, as a result, the term of national security is under attack. Initially, digital technologies provided its owners with a competitive advantage, but today such technologies are available to everyone and become a part of a person’s identity. Hostile actors are able to use this digital identity to develop a deep understanding of their target audience and influence it. An established trend in using mobile apps and easy access to it, expanding the role of expert institutions and big amount of information has enhanced the opportunity to affect people’s mind. However, we can diminish the negative effects of teaching people how to behave and “live” in cyberspace. We cannot regulate the cyber domain, but we can instill persistent knowledge and form rules that people will follow in their daily life and will be much better prepared for propaganda, information flow, and cyber-attacks.
About the Author
Aliaksei Hapeyeu is a Global Shaper, Young European Ambassador, and a master’s degree student from Shandong University, China. Certified International Cyber conflicts specialist by The State University of New York. Author of the article “Why we need Smart Power in Cyberspace”. Aliaksei can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org and at his university website https://en.sdu.edu.cn