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The danger of cybersecurity 'ghettos'

Taylor Armerding | Nov. 4, 2013
Expert warns that without 'harmonisation' of security standards among rich and poor nations, the global economy will decline and cyber risks will increase

But he said he is concerned that disjointed security policies and regulations will impede the evolution and functioning of that market. "Costly barriers to cross border commerce," he said, would lead to, "a balkanized system, that threatens continued advancement of both technology interoperability and innovation."

One possible reason that balkanization has not already occurred is that, as Healey put it, "most of the undeveloped countries aren't really that connected. (But) now that Africa is increasingly connected, this may change."

And experts are somewhat dubious that the political will and cooperation exists to create the kind of harmonization Friedman advocates.

One problem is that developed countries might fear they would lose control of their own cybersecurity standards if they are required to abide by a world standard. Rosenzweig said "of course" countries like the U.S. and U.K. would lose a measure of control. "Depending on whether that results in a diminution of standards or a uniformity of standards, it could be good or bad," he said.

Healey said he suspects any international agreement, "would allow more strict application by more-advanced nations."

The more intractable problem, however, is that of competing national interests. "Different nations -- China and the U.S. -- and different companies like Facebook are already driving us towards partial Balkanization," Healey said, "and that was before the scope of NSA collection became clear. Now even like-minded nations are increasingly wary of U.S. intentions in cyberspace."

"I'm not sure anything can avoid it (balkanization)," Rosenzweig said. "It isn't in some nations' interests to avoid, so they probably won't. From a Chinese perspective, for example, cutting off from the West is the optimal result."

That, according to Miller, will damage both economic growth and security. "Having to comply with 40, 50, who knows how many sets of technical standards, requirements and local certification and testing requirements, etc. ... [means that] security technologies won't be able to get to the places that they need to get to and consumers will suffer by having worse security, and it in fact will mean higher prices in the technology they buy," he said.


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