In the Wild West of the Internet, cyberattacks are the order of the day
The number of cyberattacks in Switzerland and worldwide has risen sharply. This underscores the urgent need to create more solid digital infrastructures capable of providing real guarantees in terms of data protection and reliability.
The Internet has changed the way we work, communicate and have access to information; even the rules of warfare. War has now shifted online. Russia has proven this in recent weeks with cyberattacks on the virtual infrastructures of key Ukrainian institutionsExternal link such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other government agencies.
The goal is to steal important information, disseminate false information, and make the systems of hostile countries vulnerable. After all, if you control the Internet, don't you also control the world? The truth is that few rules apply in the digital space, and those that do exist can be circumvented, sometimes causing incalculable damage to governments and individuals.
Switzerland is not a leading country in terms of e-government. One only has to look at the delays in important issues such as digital identity and electronic medical records, two projects that are much discussed (the Swiss population even voted on digital identity last year), but which are still at a standstill.
Recently, a hacker attack hit the Swiss railwaysExternal link, leaking the personal data of thousands of passengers: names, travel classes, departures, destinations. The hacker declared that he had no criminal intent but only wanted to expose the problem of data security in Switzerland. A rather cumbersome problem in a country that hosts some of the world's most important non-governmental organisations and millions of humanitarian data.
A sophisticated attackExternal link on the servers of the International Committee of the Red Cross made headlines last week. The cyberattack compromised the confidential information of more than half a million vulnerable people around the world – victims of conflicts, disasters, migration – and highlighted Switzerland's lack of a sovereign Swiss cloud that is secure and neutral.
Instead, the Swiss government continues to rely on private companies such as Amazon, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle to manage its government data cloud. And the government's current decision to include the large Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba in this list of large private players has attracted much criticism.
Is Switzerland lagging far behind in digital transformation? Do you have any personal experience to share on this issue? Let meExternal link know your thoughts.
Digital sovereignty is a very hot topic at the moment in the European UnionExternal link. The discussion is about building digital infrastructures that follow 'European' values in the area of data control, storage and use, in order to free the continent from dependence on large American technology companies, which have a de facto monopoly on European data.
The principle is as follows: if Europe can build roads that follow its own rules, why should it continue to rely on those of others, paying the toll with its users’ personal information?
Experts believe that Switzerland should also make an effort to secure the sensitive data of NGOs, companies, institutions and private users. Especially considering that cyberattacks in the Confederation have doubled in recent years, as reported by National Centre for Cyber Security.
"Switzerland should be able to improve its image on this strategic issue in the years to come," recently declaredExternal link Jean-Pierre Hubaux, professor at EPFL and academic director of the Center for Digital Trust.
Do you fear for the security of the data you share online? Do you think every state should be 'sovereign' over the data of its citizens? Let me knowExternal link what you think.
The digital counteroffensive in action
But interesting initiatives are also coming out of Switzerland. Recently, the Geneva-based non-profit foundation Swiss Digital Initiative (SDI) launched a Swiss Digital Trust LabelExternal link to identify digital services that are trustworthy in terms of transparency, security and data protection. I had already mentioned this in an article some time ago, in which I addressed the issue of trust in new technologies.
“Just like the organic label or the nutrition table, the Digital Trust Label acts as a seal of trust in the digital world,” explained Doris Leuthard, President of the SDI.
The initiative is certainly laudable, as it aims to increase ethics in the digital space and provide guarantees for consumers. Other countries in Europe have also launched similar projects, such as Denmark, Germany and France.
The real challenge, however, is to develop a label which is valid internationally; but this seems very complicated at the moment. In addition, the labelling processes must be transparent and guarantee the independence of the review bodies. These points should be better clarified by the SDI and the public and private partners involved in the Swiss label project (such as AXA, Credit Suisse and Swisscom).
On the positive side, awareness of these issues is growing: civil society is moving to influence the digital transformation. The community of digital rights activists is made up of citizens committed to raising public awareness about the importance of their personal data, which are often 'given' to big companies without even knowing what they will do with them and how they will keep them.
One of the most active campaigners in this regard in Switzerland is Nikki Böhler, who is covered the first episode of the new series on Swiss public television SRF "Digital Offensive", republished by SWI swissinfo.ch. My colleague Michele Andina tells us more:
"Digital transformation is shaping new movements, new subcultures, new ways of thinking. From the digital nomads, who work while travelling the world, to the artists of the new millennium, who sell their work in the form of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT), to the activists fighting to create awareness about the value of our data: they are all portrayed in the series "Digital Offensives". The series chronicles the work and lives of five young people trying to make a difference in the digital world."
Dates to remember: February 11 and 13
February 11th is the International Day of Women and Girls in ScienceExternal link. SWI swissinfo.ch will celebrate this day with a series of articles, videos and portraits of women who have shaped and are shaping the scientific and technological landscape in Switzerland and around the world. Not to be missed!
On February 13th, the Swiss electorate will vote on a ban on animal testing. In addition, the popular initiative, which is being voted on, also calls for a ban on all experiments on humans, as well as the import of new products developed using such methods. SWI swissinfo.ch will closely follow the results of the vote and the possible implications for the world of science.
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