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Cyberspace and world politics

Commentary: The cyberspace issue is particularly captivating as it has quickly become part of the international political agenda, with information security receiving worldwide attention

Politics in the world now refers to merely technical rather than purely political issues. In recent years, cyberspace issues, including cybersecurity, Internet freedom and governance, have quickly become ‘politicized’ and a natural global public issue.

Important signs of the politicization of the cyber world are the inclusion of cybersecurity on the scenario agenda, as well as the spreading of US policy on the Internet freedom and the promotion of the theory of the IT public domain.

The reason why the issue of cyberspace can rapidly politicize the world is closely related to the intrinsic relevance for the Internet security and the threats posed by politicians and the media regarding active US promotion to maintain hegemony.

Although it is very difficult to politicize technical issues, countries can significantly reduce the negative impact of politicizing cyberspace by increasing contacts, building consensus, comparing and learning from experience in dealing with similar issues, and curbing excessive media threats.

In recent years, the international community has witnessed the emergence of three major global public problems: the financial crisis, climate change and the cyberspace issue.

Among these, the cyberspace issue is particularly captivating, as it is a new problem that has quickly entered the international political agenda. Compared to the financial crisis and the problems of climate change, the cybersecurity issue is still in a nascent stage. It is often compared to the Wild West – that is, the lack of international direction and laws that have not yet formed a global basis for consensus and a firmly established international consultation system.

Cyberspace is characterized by the application of electronic technology. It stores, modifies and exchanges data and information through interconnected network systems and physical devices. It is a multidimensional artificial virtual world managed, accessed and generated by computers and it is connected to the existing world, creating a multiverse system in which we are here, but can also go there with the possibility of virtual ubiquity.

Cyberspace can be divided into two types: technical issues and non-technical issues. Non-technical issues are the key research matters of international politics scholars. They mainly comprise three main issues: network security, the Internet freedom and its governance, as mentioned above.

In terms of cybersecurity, scholars are holding a series of discussions on cyberspace with regard to the paradox of cybersecurity. Paradox insofar as there can be no security, according to the old saying: ‘every law has a loophole’: see also the phenomenon of hacking against the Latium Region, as well as the issue of those who design security software, a copy of which they can sell at very high prices to those interested in cracking it to obtain other results beyond the ‘trivial’ money gains. Other security issues are cyber warfare and cyber deterrence.

The Internet freedom is a foreign policy weapon that the United States has vigorously promoted in recent years, and the theory of the Internet public domain is an important theoretical basis for reinforcing this conception of international relations.

Research in this area focuses on the global public domain nature of cyberspace, and on the contradiction between the Internet freedom and cybersecurity.

As cybersecurity problems have increased and the US policy on the Internet freedom has been implemented, the risks of cyberspace have gradually become a severe obstacle to mutual trust and normal exchanges between countries.

For this reason, the Internet governance, including network security measures and the response to cybercrime problems, has also become an important issue of interest to international policy scholars.

The problem of cyberspace is an emerging global public issue. Research on such topics, especially theoretical analysis, is still in a state of rapid growth but development is lagging behind. Taking network security as an example, people have different interpretations of the connotation of the concept of network security and often use it interchangeably with terms such as computer security, network security and information security.

Although various problems of cyber insecurity are widely mentioned in official documents, the media and IT, surprisingly few security research papers clearly explain the combination of security and IT. What does this mean?

It is still very appropriate to use the summary provided by Johan Eriksson’s analysis of the security impact of the information revolution in 2006 to assess today’s computer security research: “Most research is unreliable and the focus is on security issues related to information technology. Most of the IT literature is policy-oriented and rarely related to international relations theory or any other discipline’.

Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, few scholars are concerned with the reason why the issue of cyberspace can quickly become politicized in the world. In other words, cyberspace is first a technical issue, followed by a domestic political issue, and finally an international political issue.

Global public issues are diverse, but not all of them can become explicit international political issues. The word politicization has two meanings: one is the process of conferring a political nature and the other is the result of obtaining a political nature. In domestic politics, politicization is often seen as a continuum of individual political consciousness formation and participation.

Cyberspace consists of a series of interconnected computer devices capable of storing and using information and communicating. It comprises four layers: people, information, logical modules and physical devices. In terms of use or purpose, cyberspace can be used to manipulate, process and develop data and information, and can promote and enhance communication between people and interaction between people and information.

On the one hand, unlike the four natural spaces – terrestrial, marine, atmospheric and ‘sublunar’ – cyberspace is entirely a man-made space, and the digital and virtual are its important features. On the other hand, in contrast to the four natural spaces, cyberspace increasingly shows signs of a neo-politics.

Specifically, the global politicization of cyberspace is manifesting itself in cybersecurity, which is rapidly becoming part of everyday life.

The fundamental manifestation of the politicization of the issue is that it has become the content of international negotiations and that the relevant international organizations are gradually taking an interest in the problem.

Since the new century, the cybersecurity issue has become an important topic of the United Nations. The United Nations has adopted a number of resolutions to promote the international community’s attention to cybersecurity threats and cooperation.

General Assembly’s Resolution 55/63 of January 22, 2001 suggests that countries should ensure that their laws and practices can eliminate safe havens for individuals who illegally misuse information technology. When investigating, international cases of illegal misuse of information technology should be prosecuted. Hence the countries concerned should cooperate with the coordination of law enforcement agencies. In the fight against the illegal misuse of information technology, countries should exchange information on the most severe problems. General Assembly’s Resolution 60/45 of January 6, 2006 requests the UN Secretary-General to appoint an intergovernmental expert group to continue research on possible cooperation on potential information security threats and requires the group to submit a report.

Although these resolutions and recommendations are far from the standards of an international convention on information security, they do mean that information security issues – as an emerging problem – are receiving worldwide attention.

Giancarlo Elia Valori