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Jakarta Post

Securing territorial sovereignty in cyberland

  • Yunda Kartanegara

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, March 13, 2015   /  08:25 am

Decades ago, a computer was nothing more than a calculating device plugged into an electrical outlet in the wall. Yet now we see many forms of computers, like digital watches, smartphones, tablets and whatnot.

Computers and the Internet are a perfect combination explaining why we are living in a cyber-anxiety era. Cisco Systems forecasts that by 2020 there will be 50 billion devices connected to the Internet. Personal data, government plans on infrastructure, business and many more types of information are kept in computers. Therefore, the cyberworld has become an important domain in human life.

On the other hand, the luxury of the cyber-world brings a source of threats. Data kept in computers are vulnerable to malware infections '€” top secret data are victims of espionage and even sabotage.

Thomas Rid, a professor in the Department of War Studies at King'€™s College, London, argued in 2012 that securing the cyberworld goes hand in hand with securing national interest and sovereignty. Information about infrastructure, security strategy, financial reports and so forth are subject to a state'€™s territorial sovereignty. Cyber-espionage by another state is considered an act of intervention. It is totally misleading to think that cyberspace is stateless. Securing the geography of cyberworld is perceived as protecting data within national borders.

Considering the emerging threats in the cyberworld, President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo has announced a plan to establish a national cyber agency. Data from the Communications and Information Ministry revealed that Indonesia was a prominent target of cyber-attacks, overtaking China, with 36.6 million cases in the past three years.

It is not surprising that Indonesia has become a target of cyber-attacks because its cyber-defense is considered weak. But its current status as a new emerging power has ignited insecurity among other states. Despite the country'€™s slowing economic growth, our industries are expanding. In fact Indonesia is among the world'€™s 20 largest economies.

Natural-resource rich and big-market Indonesia has always been appealing not only to big powers but also to neighboring countries. The eavesdropping scandal that irritated relations between Indonesia and Australia in 2013 was evidence of Indonesia'€™s importance to its southern neighbor and other global players.

Both Indonesia and Australia were in a difficult position when it came to the spying scandal. Indonesia played the victim and thought that Australia had hurt their bilateral ties.

Now other states feel threatened by Indonesia, given President Jokowi'€™s bold vision of transforming the country into a world maritime axis.

History has shown that in this situation we most likely will face another Thucydides trap. It is when rising powers threaten the status-quo power that great wars are caused. Here, rising powers are assumed to either increase their military budgets or advance their military technology. Indonesia is not supposedly being too naïve in seeing its current status, leaving the fact that we need to advance security to prepare for any kind of attack.

At this time, we may totally ignore the concept of war because war among states is distinctively uncommon to witness in this modern era. However, it is still likely to happen. At least, it is absolutely possible in the cyberworld.

Let us forget about arms, tanks, jet fighters, not to mention the consequences of warfare. Nowadays, states may think more than twice about going to war as it absolutely costs a large amount of money. But when we think of the cyberworld, a click with a mouse can cause the same damage as warfare itself.

Cyber-attacks have the power to destroy airplane navigation systems, manipulate a government'€™s web, shut down a business network in cyber-space and many other things. Damages from cyber-attacks vary from economic loses to death. Cyber-attacks are sometimes undetected, coming from who knows who and aiming for who knows what.

Normally we are always blaming hackers for cyber-attacks, ignoring that cyber-attacks might come with means and ends. Hackers are perceived to be the ones who enjoy attacking computer networks for the challenge or even just satisfaction. But 36.6 million attacks on Indonesia'€™s cyberworld jeopardizes our national security.

The problem is, the cyberworld is perceived as the sphere that belongs to the younger generation and the tech-savvy. Meanwhile, understanding it is supposed to be under the military because it has the responsibility to protect sovereignty.

The plan to establish a national cyber agency is the right gesture to overcome threats from outside. As Indonesia is moving toward becoming a more powerful country, it is important to put cyber security into a defense strategy. The cyberworld is emerging and mutable and serious action should not be delayed. It is enough to be a victim and start to strengthen our cyber defenses.

[...] a click with a mouse can cause the same damage as warfare itself.

The writer is a graduate student of geopolitics and grand strategy at the University of Sussex, East Sussex, United Kingdom.

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