Beyond the Box Office: Real World Efforts to Raise Cyber Awareness and Capacity Worldwide

Over the years, Hollywood has released computer-related blockbusters -- like Colossus: The Forbin Project, The Net, Skyfall and others -- which have captured the curiosity and imagination of a global audience. These movies have not only brought in millions of dollars at the box office, they have also helped to shape the public image and understanding around cyber-related threats. Despite this increased public awareness of cyber issues brought about by Hollywood films, they are not able to accurately describe the challenges we face in cyberspace; nor can they explain the range of our capabilities in responding to cyber incidents. Therefore, it is our responsibility at the U.S. Department of State, in coordination with the interagency and our global partners, to raise awareness on the actual cyber threats that exist while strengthening the capability of our international partners to respond. 

The work of building the capacity of foreign governments, especially in developing countries, across a range of interconnected cyberspace policy issues may not make for a box office hit. However, it does require a year-round, dedicated and hands-on whole-of-government effort -- which is why my office, the Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues, has prioritized capacity building as a strategic part of our work. We know that securing our networks in the digital age means developing and implementing national cybersecurity plans; combatting cybercrime; creating or identifying watch, warning, response and recovery efforts; bringing about a culture of cybersecurity; and ensuring a multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance.

Because cyber threats are not contained within geo-political borders, our approach to preventing and responding to them demands international coordination between stakeholders who are committed to an open, interoperable, resilient, and secure cyberspace. That’s the kind of Internet that we are committed to maintaining because it has allowed us to realize economic and social benefits for more than a decade. As more countries come online, international support to build capacity through policy, legal, and technical efforts will make a difference in the way that cyberspace evolves in the coming decade. Will you be able to access controversial news about your government or will it be blocked by filters? Will you have confidence that your personal information is secure when you make a purchase online?

These are questions that you should be asking because the answers can have a tremendous impact on your future economic and social opportunities. These and other questions arise in our global capacity building trainings, workshops, and conferences. Our partners -- domestic and abroad -- collaborate to share and shape discussions on the potential impact of cyber issues and we work together in building resilience and assurances into their network infrastructure. 

In 2015, the United States joined the Netherlands in founding the Global Forum on Cyber Expertise (GFCE), a global platform for countries, international organizations, and the private sector to exchange best practices and expertise on cyber capacity building. Within the GFCE, we are partnering with Japan and Australia to deliver cybercrime programs in Southeast Asia through the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In another initiative under the GFCE, in partnership with the African Union Commission, we are helping African member states draft national cybersecurity frameworks. We are also standing in support of the efforts of the African Union and Symantec to produce a report that collects and presents detailed technical data on cybersecurity threats and trends in Africa. These strategic initiatives reflect our commitment to building the capacity for governments and other stakeholders of the Internet to address cyber-related threats.

Creating a culture of cybersecurity requires engaging all stakeholders of the Internet with practical ways to improve cyber hygiene. That is why the United States also joined Canada and the Organization of American States in an initiative under the GFCE to build a global campaign to raise cybersecurity awareness. Each October, the United States partners with key organizations and supports national awareness campaigns –- like our national Stop Think Connect campaign -– to encourage businesses, government, and individuals to adopt safer and more secure practices online.

In support of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM), U.S. embassies and consulates have hosted discussions, competitions, guest speakers, and social media campaigns under the hashtag #Cyberaware throughout the month of October. From Japan to Argentina, Turkey to Benin, U.S. diplomatic missions have conducted outreach activities and engaged with local interlocutors in the private sector, academia, and host governments on cybersecurity policy and strategies. The NCSAM activities held throughout October have raised global awareness on the range of cyber issues.

Cyber-related movies have been effective in shaping the public image and common understanding of cyber issues, in part, because they are regularly released throughout the year. To have an impact on global public perception and raise awareness on cyber issues we too must have a year-round approach. Therefore, my office at the U.S. Department of State will continue promoting cybersecurity awareness and only safe practices; I encourage you to follow us at @State_Cyber for updates.

About the Author: Christopher Painter serves as the U.S. Department of State's Coordinator for Cyber Issues

Editor's Note: This entry also appeared on Medium.com in the State Department's Foggy Bottom publication. 

For More Information:

  • Read other DipNote blogs by Coordinator Painter on cyber issues.
  • Follow the State Department's Cyber Issues Office on Twitter @State_Cyber and on Facebook.
  • Join the coversation online with #cyberaware to learn more about cybersecurity issues.
Moviegoers watch the James Bond 007 movie "Skyfall" during the movie's premiere ceremony at a cinema.
October 31, 2016

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