Shaping the Cyber Future
Cyber future
Shaping the Cyber Future

Ethics and policies used to counter malicious activities in cyberspace

On Wednesday, 20 November 2019, the GCSP welcomed a room filled with technology enthusiasts for a public discussion titled “Shaping the Cyber Future”.

Co-sponsored by the US Mission, the panel featured Dixie O'Donnell, cyber security fellow with the GCSP’s Global Fellowship Initiative; World Economic Forum Head of Technology, Society and Policy Dr Thomas Philbeck; and the GCSP’s Head of Cyber Security Dr Robert Dewar as moderator, as they discussed the state of cyber regulations and policies to counter malicious activities in cyber space.

The consensus among panellists was that people shape technology. Even as technology shapes society, people must make choices about regulations, governance structures and values to mitigate the negative effects of evolving technologies. While technology indeed shapes our future, both individuals and society as a whole are responsible for building and maintaining the structures that govern how technologies are used. This has been the case throughout human history, from the Stone Age to the Iron Age; from farming to industrialisation. Although the speed and intensity of innovation have increased, technological innovation and human agency have not.

O’Donnell discussed the need to mainstream security into the design of all internet-connected infrastructures, devices and software. She also spoke about the manner in which values and culture shape approaches to cyber regulations, with differing models now emerging from Russia, China and the European Union. Furthermore, she talked about how the triad of government, the private sector and civil society reacted to the extreme disruption of the Industrial Revolution in order protect both markets and workers in the West. Governments, businesses and citizens need to ask which governance models should influence the global economy and what their role in building and maintaining it should be. Good policies and ideas can mitigate the negative externalities of the expansion of cyberspace and its absorption of ever-increasing human activity, but more cooperative and systemic approaches are needed to combat disinformation and the erosion of trust between communities and countries, and to ensure that technology continues to benefit humanity.

Dr Philbeck said we manifest our relationships and assumptions about the world through technology, and new technologies let us do the same things we have always done in new ways. The inverse relationship between scale and privacy makes things problematic for policies built for physical communities. How we think and what we assume about the world is responsible for how we utilise technologies. We need ethical and security layers built into the tech-development process beyond product development. Only once we start to do this, will we exhibit the kind of behaviours that restore trust.


We look forward to continuing this discussion at the GCSP.


Discover the next GCSP course on Cyber Security in Geneva in September 2020.