Freedom of movement is one of the core principles of the European Union. In the digital age, it is not just people and products that need to move safely and securely across borders. Every day, vast quantities of information and data travel across Europe’s borders as well.
In some cases, that data is highly sensitive, categorised as, for example, RESTRICTED or SECRET – depending on the severity of the disclosure’s impact. When that happens, governments and multinational institutions need to be confident that they are communicating about critical security issues without anyone else listening in.
This is far from an abstract problem. In recent years, there has been a worrying increase in activity by criminal actors and hostile states who are seeking to gain a strategic advantage by accessing confidential communications between government bodies.
“Ultimately, we need to recognise that in the wrong hands, classified information is a national security threat,” Kristofer Ziegler explains. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of malicious actors out there, criminal and states, who are constantly testing the security of the systems that European governments use. We need to remain one step ahead of them.”
Ziegler fully acknowledges the enormously positive contribution that the digital revolution has brought to European citizens and governments, enabling us all to remain connected as we go about our daily lives. But this connectivity, he argues, has also led to the emergence of significant new risks, with concerns about information security high on the political agenda.
The world is not getting less complex and the threat landscape is not getting less malicious
“Increased digital connectivity has made us more efficient and helped us organise our lives,” Ziegler tells The Parliament. “But it has also led to the acceleration of certain threats, such as advanced cyber-attacks, the spread of malicious code and ransomware, as well as other attempts to exploit human behaviour, that compromise the safety and security of Europeans. There are also increasing challenges related to data breaches and eavesdropping. Sectra is focusing on developing communication solutions that are responding to those threats.”
Sectra is a trusted partner with almost half a century of work in cybersecurity, and with the core focus on cryptography, which is the cornerstone of information security as it enables secure voice, messaging and data communications. This means Ziegler has an in-depth understanding of the extent and nature of the threats that governments increasingly face from hostile actors.
Ziegler sees positive signs that cyberthreats are now firmly on the policy agenda with stakeholders increasingly understanding the importance of data and information security.
“Information security is not just a technical IT issue,” he tells us. “Failures can lead to geopolitical risks as well as a strategic risk for organisations, both public and private. The threat landscape is constantly changing. Governments ultimately have a responsibility to address risks to ensure that critical functions can continue.”
When it comes to the operation of governments and their institutions, a lack of effective security measures could lead to serious consequences. If classified information was to fall into the hands of hostile actors, then the very safety and security of the EU and its member states could be undermined.
The need for those solutions has been brought sharply into focus as cyber-attacks have increasingly emerged as a core component in international conflicts. For example, the need for European nations to coordinate their response to the invasion of Ukraine required secure channels on which leaders and officials could communicate knowing that their discussions would remain behind closed doors.
However, Ziegler cautions that technological advances mean that solutions that are effective today need to be developed alongside an awareness of the tools that future malicious actors may have at their disposal.
Ziegler identifies a main challenge: the threats constantly evolves as hostile actors use new technologies to access confidential data. It is why businesses like Sectra are focusing their R&D on anticipating and responding to the threats of tomorrow as well as addressing those of today.
AI-enabled tools, social media disinformation, and deepfakes are high on the list of risks for policymakers, but Ziegler also highlights the way that advances in computational technology could undermine the effectiveness of traditional methods of encryption.
“One of the major threats is quantum computers,” he explains. “These computers will be able to perform calculations that can potentially pose a threat to the encryption systems that are currently in place. We have to anticipate this, by assuming the existence of a fully functional quantum computer, capable of cracking the mathematical fundaments of today’s crypto systems, and build solutions capable of keeping data secure for 20 to 30 years.”
We need to think about how to cooperate even more efficiently between businesses and the governmental sector, to enable a proactive and predictable framework, where we can develop solutions that address today’s threats as well as tomorrows
It is an area where Sectra has already made significant progress as a business. The company has launched quantum resilient communication systems capable of safeguarding data from the potential threats of quantum computers. Ziegler tells us that proactivity is also key for individual organisations that are seeking to safeguard data – for instance by putting robust policies in place and delivering regular staff training.
However, that proactivity requires close collaboration between all partners. Ziegler believes that this demands a whole-systems approach where legislators, regulators, industry and academia work closely together to enable circumstances for rapid development and rollout of new solutions that stay ahead of threats from criminal actors and hostile nation-states.
“The world is not getting less complex and the threat landscape is not getting less malicious,” Ziegler explains. “We need to think about how to cooperate even more efficiently between businesses and the governmental sector, to enable a proactive and predictable framework, where we can develop solutions that address today’s threats as well as tomorrows.”
Technology does not stop. The increasing interconnectedness of digital systems means that a single point of vulnerability could be exploited with serious consequences. However, with trusted European industry leaders like Sectra investing in solutions that anticipate future trends, the signs are that European digital communications can remain secure from those seeking to access confidential information.
Kristofer Ziegler is the Country Manager Belgium, at Sectra.