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National security concerns over spying have grown among Western nations, with the European Union considering plans to exclude Chinese companies from 5G networks. REUTERS PIC

TECHNOLOGY is neutral. It is a token of advancement, but it can also be a trigger for destruction.

While leaders all over the world are being applauded for unveiling their countries’ latest innovations, not enough thought is being given to how much conflict they are causing.

According to a report recently released by the World Economic Forum (WEF), nations would fight over weather manipulation tools, food supply chains, space, and effective computing.

The entire scenario, it seems, is akin to the theme of the highly praised space opera, The Expanse, which could very well be a reality for us much sooner than we realise. (The Expanse is an American science-fiction television series which takes us hundreds of years into the future where humans have colonised the solar system and Mars has become an independent military power.)

Think about it: many sectors and agents of economy around the world are already embracing the gifts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, such as automation, cloud computing, robots, and artificial intelligence, to advance visions and boost revenues.

Their technological advances could also be the very thing to expose them to the threats of cyber politics and warfare.

Consider the recent trend of technology-driven disputes reported in the news.

One is the recent ban on Chinese telco giant Huawei by three members of the Five Eyes security alliance — the United States, Australia and New Zealand — on grounds that Huawei’s technology could potentially be used by the Chinese government to spy on others.

Huawei has argued that it has no ties with the Chinese government, but because of its “tech expertise” it is so feared by Vodafone Germany that it has recently decided not to enlist the company as its core network supplier, choosing Nokia as its partner instead.

Most recently, it was reported in the Nikkei Asean Review that national security concerns over spying have grown among Western nations and the European Union was considering plans to exclude Chinese companies from 5G networks.

While we cannot be sure if the claims are true, the narrative that powers it reveals a larger, politically driven thought process — nations will continue to butt heads for power.

It just so happens that the chess game is now factored by technological innovations, proving that power struggle is no longer about land mass and natural resources, or who is more “powerful”.

If World War 3 has already started without us even realising it, it may be unfolding in cyberspace, away from the naked eye.

To grasp the point above, we have to understand that technology in and of itself is the enabler of political agendas and strategies in today’s age. It is evident in the way that digital technologies are powering the 41R in the same way that steam engine was the cornerstone of the First Industrial Revolution.

As businesses and governments adapt to the boundless and often intersecting capacities of advances such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing, so too are the cyber attackers.

As bleak as it may sound, the growth of technology does pave more paths of exploitation for cyber threat actors, who unsurprisingly often end up as mercenaries amidst the global power play.

We need only to remind ourselves of incidents such as the Operation Olympic Games (directed by the Bush-led US government on Iranian nuclear facilities in 2006) to see the long-term impact of technology on the masses when it is abused by powerful nations.

Long gone are the days of mercenaries wielding swords and guns. Today, anyone equipped with a computer and knowledge of technology can play the part, which makes attacks and other cyber-warfare strategies scarier. The rise of fake news and online smear campaigns are really just the tip of the iceberg.

Neil Postman wrote in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985): “Technology giveth and technology taketh away or so the saying goes, and it is not always in equal measure. Sometimes, it destroys more than it creates.
But it is never one-sided.” The author was indeed ahead of his time.

That cybersecurity is a practice (of defending computers, servers, mobile devices, electronic systems, networks, and data from malicious attacks) and cyber hygiene, the cornerstone of it, prove that technology is here to stay. We cannot run away from it, but what we can do is to provide balance and control so that it does not take over our lives.

The writer is NST news editor (Weekend/Probe/Special Report).

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