26 January 2020

Ideological shift, public support and social media: The ‘New’ in Kashmir’s ‘New Militancy’


The new militant movement in Kashmir, which began with Burhan Wani in the southern areas, has escalated the conflict in the Valley. While militancy is not new in Kashmir, the Pulwama attack put the conflict back on the radar of the international community. This paper examines the changing nature of militancy in Kashmir, specifically with regard to training, recruitment patterns and the use of social media, public support for militants, and an apparent ideological drift. The paper identifies four new variables that have changed the contours of militancy in Kashmir, further complicating the security threats to the Indian state.

This paper is part of ORF's series, 'National Security'. Find other research in the series here:

Attribution: Khalid Shah, “Ideological Shift, Public Support and Social Media: The ‘New’ in Kashmir’s ‘New Militancy’”, ORF Occasional Paper No. 231, January 2020, Observer Research Foundation.

On 14 February 2019, a VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) attack in the Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) claimed the lives of 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel.[1] It was the biggest terror attack the Kashmir Valley had witnessed since militancy first broke out in the 1990s.[2] Following the attack, India and Pakistan—both of them nuclear powers—seemed to have come closer to the brink of war. India’s retaliation to the Pulwama attack—the Balakot airstrikes and the dogfight in the wake of the retaliatory strike—set a new benchmark in the country’s efforts to counter cross-border terrorism.[3]

India’s Economy: When Will the Elephant Dance?

Thirty years ago, the world saw the Indian and Chinese economies as being comparable. Both were considered engines of global growth. Today, the view looks different. China’s GDP and per capita income are nearly five times those of India. Meanwhile, India’s economic engine is sputtering — GDP growth today is the lowest it has been in six years.

In order to prevent the situation from worsening, the Modi government should pay undivided attention to getting growth back on track, says Duvvuri Subbarao, former governor of the Reserve Bank of India, and a research fellow at the Center for Advanced Study of India (CASI) at the University of Pennsylvania. He recently gave a talk at Penn titled, “Will the Indian Elephant Dance Again?

Knowledge@Wharton interviewed Subbarao about his views on the Indian economy and how it can get back on track, among other issues. An edited transcript of the conversation follows. (Listen to the podcast at the top of this page.)

Knowledge@Wharton: Why is the elephant an apt metaphor for the Indian economy?

Is China Engaging in Debt Trap Diplomacy?

By Dr. James M. Dorsey

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The pending Chinese acquisition of a stake in Tajikistan’s aluminum smelter, coupled with earlier tax concessions to Chinese companies that would substantially reduce the trickle down effect of investments for the troubled Tajik economy, suggest that China has yet to fully take into account frequent criticism of its commercial approach to Belt and Road-related projects.

Desperate for cash, Tajikistan is about to sell yet another vital asset to China at a time when countries like Sri Lanka and the Maldives are demanding renegotiation of debt settlements that either forced them to surrender control of critical infrastructure or left them with unsustainable repayments.

The center said eight countries — Tajikistan, the Maldives, Pakistan, Djibouti, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Mongolia, and Montenegro — are particularly at risk.

China’s Investment In Belt And Road Initiative Cools – Analysis

By Michael Lelyveld

As much of the world looks to China as a major source of investment, the country’s economic slowdown has driven long-term commitments into decline.

On Dec. 19, the Ministry of Commerce reported that non- financial outbound direct investment (ODI) fell 1.2 percent from a year earlier in the first 11 months of 2019 to 680.31 billion yuan (U.S. $97.2 billion).

Investment linked to President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) also dropped 1.4 percent from previously reported year-earlier figures to U.S. $12.78 billion.

BRI investments in 56 cooperating countries accounted for 12.9 percent of China’s total ODI, according to calculations by the official Xinhua news agency.

The weak performances suggest that both ODI and BRI activity have suffered in the past year from the dual disincentives of China’s economic growth slowdown and concerns about the trade war with the United States.

The declines marked a reversal from stronger official results a year before.


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China’s economic growth has fallen to its slowest rate since 1990, and this deceleration looks set to continue. Key factors include weakening demographics, inefficient investment, maturing export markets and declining productivity growth rather than the current trade dispute with the United States.

To reverse that trend, China will need a wide-ranging policy approach that mimics the policies implemented by Japan and Korea at a similar economic stage.

While there are considerable political and economic obstacles to such reforms, if it manages to continue its rapid catch-up to advanced economy incomes the potential returns for both China and the world are significant.


China’s economic progress is slowing. A rapidly ageing population means its demographics are becoming increasingly unfavourable, and China has reached the limits of its traditional reliance on investment and exports to fuel rapid economic growth. The key question is what comes next. Continuing with the same approach risks a further decline in the pace of growth. This would create major difficulties for its highly leveraged economy, disappoint the growth expectations of its populace, and add to the internal and external economic risks that are already evident. Deep reforms will be required just to sustain a trajectory of 5 to 6 per cent growth annually over the coming decade.

Cyber War With China? Here's Five Predictions for 2020

by Klon Kitchen
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In the world of foreign policy, no one knows the future. Certainly not me. But trends can be spotted, and their trajectories predicted.

Here are five predictions (admittedly aggressive ones) concerning what might happen in foreign policy in 2020.

1. Cyber Conflicts Will Become Real-World Conflicts

The world of cyber is already crowded with national intelligence services, criminal syndicates, hackers, and pirates. In 2019, state and non-state actors alike have been engaging one another with increasing frequency and “gusto,” and there’s no sign of this slowing down.

Specifically, as the U.S. enters a presidential election year, low barriers to mounting digital interference campaigns and their promise of potentially significant impact will prove too tempting for several foreign governments and others seeking to cause havoc in our political process.

'We’re always ready’: Would the U.S. win a cyberwar with Iran?


One afternoon in late December, a team of hackers surreptitiously entered the computer network of a western Ukrainian power company, Prykarpattyaoblenergo, and began taking control of critical circuit breakers across the region. Employees watched in horror as the cursors on their computer monitors began moving on their own, opening and executing commands at will. One by one, the hackers took electrical substations offline, injecting malware as they went that rendered the entire power grid inoperable. For several hours, some 230,000 people were plunged back into the Stone Age.

The December 23, 2015, cyberattack, which Ukrainian and American officials later blamed on Russia, is surely top of mind for many national security officials following the U.S. assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the second-most powerful military leader in Iran. The two countries have since backed away from the brink of war. But cybersecurity experts remain deeply concerned about the potential for more clandestine acts of retaliation. Iran, after all, is notorious for its use of asymmetric warfare. In 2018, U.S. officials warned that Iranian hackers had laid the groundwork for extensive cyberattacks on U.S. infrastructure, including electric grids and water plants, as well as healthcare and technology companies. Might they seize the opportunity to attack?

Trump's action deterred Iran — now we must do so in cyberspace

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A few months ago, in these pages, we advocated for the United States to extract significant costs from Iran for its provocative activities in the Middle East. Earlier this month, President Trump did just that. In a single airstrike, the United States made clear to Iran that it was prepared to take action in response to the killing of Americans and the ransacking of the U.S. embassy. And, notwithstanding the overreaction from various quarters — particularly on Capitol Hill — about the consequences of the president’s action, the Iranian response thus far has been fairly muted, with a few missiles striking U.S. facilities in Iraq and no casualties.

While we cannot assume these strikes are the sum total of the Iranian response, Iran’s actions to date demonstrate that they understand a more serious attack likely would have elicited an overwhelming response from the United States. This is proof positive that deterrence works. Although some might say that the risk of a larger conflict wasn’t worth the risk of taking the strike against Qassem Soleimani, the reality is that for the better part of a decade, the U.S.'s decision to leave Iranian aggression in the region largely untouched is what led the Iranians to believe they could operate with relative impunity.

Petraeus Says Trump May Have Helped ‘Reestablish Deterrence’ by Killing Suleimani


As a former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and a former CIA director, retired Gen. David Petraeus is keenly familiar with Qassem Suleimani, the powerful chief of Iran’s Quds Force, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad Friday morning.

After months of a muted U.S. response to Tehran’s repeated lashing out—the downing of a U.S. military drone, a devastating attack on Saudi oil infrastructure, and more—Suleimani’s killing was designed to send a pointed message to the regime that the United States will not tolerate continued provocation, he said.

Petraeus spoke to Foreign Policy on Friday about the implications of an action he called “more significant than the killing of Osama bin Laden.” This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Foreign Policy: What impact will the killing of Gen. Suleimani have on regional tensions?

The Iraqi Military Won’t Survive a Tug of War Between the United States and Iran


After a U.S. drone strike killed a prominent Iranian general, Qassem Suleimani, at the Baghdad international airport earlier this month, and Iran responded with strikes on Iraqi bases that housed U.S. troops, the future of the Iraqi military has been very much up for discussion.

If the conflict between Iran and the United States escalates, the Iraqi military will be tasked with both ensuring Iraqi stability and negotiating between the two major powers, which each have a stake in its operations. But both tasks may be too much to ask from an organization that recently suffered enormous causalities in the war with the Islamic State and is barely holding the country together during a wave of anti-government protests. More fundamentally, the armed forces are hamstrung by a complex infrastructure designed to keep the military ethnically balanced—a good idea in theory but one that has led to problems at both the upper levels of the armed forces and among the rank and file.

To ensure that the Iraqi military includes representation from all major groups within the country’s population, many of the highest-level military positions are allocated by sect or ethnic group. For example, if a Sunni Arab commander retires, he must be replaced by a Sunni Arab, whether that person is the most qualified person in line for the position or not. Haggling over these appointments slows them down, and the process can sometimes take years.

Radical Islamists Are Still a Threat Behind Bars

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In August 2014, a homeless, unemployed petty crook had his plan to behead a British soldier thwarted by the police. A recent convert to Islam from Jehovah’s Witnesses, Brusthom Ziamani appeared to be just another jihadi whose grand plans ultimately ended in failure—until, that is, he ended up in a British jail.

Operating among a sea of other radicals in HMP Woodhill, in Milton Keynes, a town 50 miles outside of London, Ziamani staked out a position of importance. According to an ex-prisoner speaking to the Times of London, Ziamani dubbed himself “chief of the Sharia police,” making the rounds in his block to ensure that no Muslim prisoners were breaking the fast during Ramadan.

Ziamani would bring wrongdoers to the makeshift sharia court he ran from the confines of a jail cell. The Times describes how two “accused” appeared before Ziamani for the supposed crime of drinking alcohol. Ziamani decreed the punishment to be a beating, which two of his acolytes quickly—and savagely—delivered to the guilty parties.

Nervous U.S. Allies Brace for Iran Fallout

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Caught off guard by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to order the killing of the most powerful Iranian general, the United States’ longtime Gulf and European allies are eyeing Washington nervously and bracing for further retaliation from Tehran. 

The strike on Qassem Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was an unexpected blow to Tehran after months of a muted U.S. response to the regime’s increased aggressiveness across the region. And it seems to have demonstrated that the United States was serious about enforcing the president’s red line—the death of an American. 

But it also caught close U.S. allies in the Middle East and Europe flat-footed and—despite an apparent de-escalation in the wake of a token Iranian missile attack on Jan. 8—has sparked fears of an uptick in violence that would be primarily felt in their backyard. Trump’s unpredictable behavior and inflammatory rhetoric have these nations worried that, while the U.S. president will respond forcefully when American lives are at stake, he may not have their backs if regional interests are threatened. Trump, for instance, declined to respond after Iran allegedly struck key Saudi oil facilities last September, a surprisingly subdued response for an administration that has said protecting Saudi Arabia is a policy priority. 



While several possible scenarios could manifest from the latest Donald Trump-led global conflict, including everything from things blowing over (unlikely) to World War III (also unlikely, but possible), the skirmish that is most probable, and the one Americans should be most worried about, would take place in cyberspace. The potential for an army of computers to produce deadly results is very real. Power grids could be shut down for days, or weeks, or indefinitely. The stock market could be knocked offline or sent into free fall by hackers. Water supplies could be poisoned; driverless cars could be used like battering rams or to mow down Americans en masse; simple corporate espionage could tank the economy. A tad dramatic? Sure. All very possible scenarios? Absolutely.

The Iranian hornet nest Trump just kicked has been training for a digital skirmish for years, according to a former State Department official I recently spoke with. As the Department of Homeland Security warned in a bulletin on Saturday, “Previous homeland-based plots have included, among other things, scouting and planning against infrastructure targets and cyber enabled attacks against a range of U.S.-based targets.” The agency noted that “Iran maintains a robust cyber program and can execute cyber attacks against the United States. Iran is capable, at a minimum, of carrying out attacks with temporary disruptive effects against critical infrastructure in the United States.”

Congress struggles on rules for cyber warfare with Iran


The U.S. and Iran may have walked back from the brink of war, but the potential for a cyber battle looms with no clear rules of engagement.

Lawmakers and military officials say there’s no agreed-upon definition of what constitutes cyber warfare, leaving them to decide on a case-by-case basis how best to respond to individual incidents.

“We've never really gone down the route to define what constitutes an act of war when it comes to cyberattacks,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, told The Hill last week.

Sen. Gary Peters (Mich.), the top Democrat on the committee, told reporters it’s an issue that “needs some further attention” and one that isn’t going away anytime soon.

“We’re likely to see this not just with Iran, but in the future you are going to see cyber as one of the main domains of warfare going forward,” Peters said. “So it’s important to try to get our arms around how we would define it.”

Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies

· Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, 2019, v. 20, no. 1 https://jmss.org/issue/view/5169

o Israel and the Permanent Siege: The People Have Spoken - Who Will Find an Answer to the Needs of the Voters?

o The Global Expansion of China’s Military – 2019

o Geostrategy and Canadian Defence: From C.P. Stacey to a Twenty-First Century Arctic Threat Assessment

o The Economic forces of victory versus those of defeat: An analysis of the Greek Economic and Military Mobilization of the 1909-1923 Period

o The Devil is in the Details: An Examination of Hybrid Cyber Operations and International Law

o Vergennes’ Grey Zone: Grappling with the Grey Zone and Hybrid War through French Strategy 1774–1783

o Women on the Home Front: Gender Roles and IODE Contributions to the War Effort in Winnipeg, Manitoba

o Can Information Displace Mass? Armour In The Future Operating Environment

o The PLAN’s Anti-Piracy Missions in the Gulf of Aden, Africa

o The Role Of Artificial Intelligence In Facilitating Military Innovation

o The State Of Strategic And Security Studies In Canada: Workshop Report

The world in 2020: ten issues that will shape the global agenda

* Text finalised on December 16th 2019. This Nota Internacional is the result of the collective reflection of the CIDOB research teamin collaboration with EsadeGeo. Coordinated and edited by Eduard Soler i Lecha, it has benefited from the contributions of Hannah Abdullah, Anna Ayuso, Jordi Bacaria, Ana Ballesteros, Pol Bargués, Moussa Bourekba, Carmen Claudín, Carme Colomina, Anna Estrada, Francesc Fàbregues, Oriol Farrés, Agustí Fernández de Losada, Blanca Garcés, Eva Garcia, Francis Ghilès, Sean Golden, Rafael Martínez, Óscar Mateos, Sergio Maydeu, Pol Morillas, Diego Muro, Yolanda Onghena, Francesco Pasetti, Enrique Rueda, Olatz Ribera, Jordi Quero, Héctor Sánchez, Ángel Saz, Cristina Serrano, Marie Vandendriessche and Lorenzo Vidal. 

As well as immediate challenges, 2020 will encourage us to think about those in the medium and long term. A new year begins and so does a new decade. We leave 2019 behind with public protests on half of the world's streets, with the economic crisis so many have warned of still to surface, new examples of Donald Trump's erratic foreign policy at the helm of what remains the leading global power and growing awareness of the climate emergency and gender gap. 

So what will the world look like in 2020? Which major challenges will shape the decade that is just beginning? It may be summed up as disoriented, unequal and desynchronised. The world we face is disoriented by a lack of stable reference points: institutions that are failing or contested often prove unable to channel the frustrations of wide swathes of the population, to alleviate their fears and buttress their hopes. This disorientation causes perplexity, or even, an inability to take timely decisions. 

This is also an unequal world in more ways than one: inequality exists between countries but above all within societies, between the few that have a lot and the many who have little. There is a huge gender gap, about which awareness and mobilisation levels are rising, but progress is too slow and hampered by the rise of regressive political or social forces. Inequality is also territorial, whether that be within a single city or between the parts of a country that are well connected and those that have been forgotten. The fifth inequality is generational, which is not only material but also one of expectations. 

Putin's, Xi's Ruler-For-Life Moves Pose Challenges to West

MOSCOW — Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China's Xi Jinping have established themselves as the world’s most powerful authoritarian leaders in decades. Now it looks like they want to hang on to those roles indefinitely.

Putin's sudden announcement this week of constitutional changes that could allow him to extend control way beyond the end of his term in 2024 echoes Xi’s move in 2018 to eliminate constitutional term limits on the head of state.

That could give them many more years at the helm of two major powers that are frequently at odds with Washington and the West over issues ranging from economic espionage and foreign policy to democracy and human rights.

Both moves reflect their forceful personalities and determination to restore their countries to their former glory after years of perceived humiliation by the West. They also mesh with a trend of strong-man rulers taking power from Hungary and Brazil to the Philippines.

Russia and China are on another level though when it comes to influencing international events — China through its economic might and rising military, Russia through its willingness to insert itself into conflicts such as the Syrian one and to try to influence overseas elections through misinformation or make mischief through cyber attacks.

Profiles of News Consumption

by Michael Pollard, Jennifer Kavanagh

Research Questions

How do Americans currently get their news?

How are news consumption choices linked to demographic or political characteristics?

Do news consumers believe the reliability of news has changed, and which news platforms do they believe to be more or less reliable?

How is the perceived reliability of news associated with news consumption choices?

How does political partisanship shape news consumption behavior?

In this report, the authors explore novel measures of how U.S. media consumers obtain news. They examine the combinations and relative levels of use of different news delivery platforms (e.g., print, broadcast television, social media, internet), and the relationships between these "news consumption profiles" and (1) consumers' perceptions of the reliability of news overall and of news platforms, (2) consumers' use of perceived reliable platforms, and (3) their willingness to seek out news from differing viewpoints. The study relies on survey data from the nationally representative RAND American Life Panel and further identifies sociodemographic and political partisanship factors associated with news media consumption characteristics.

Who gained from global growth last decade—and who will benefit by 2030?

Homi Kharas
Around the world, household final consumption expenditure rose by $18.2 trillion in 2011 PPP terms between 2010 and 2020, from $46.5 trillion to $64.8 trillion. This growth, averaging about 3.3 percent per year, was the same as the average growth over the previous forty years—a bit better than growth in the first decade of this century, a bit worse than the growth in the last decade of the last century. It represents a continuation of a period of sustained advances in material prosperity in most places across the world that has seen average real consumption per person more than doubling in the last 40 years.

But as we all know, averages can be deceiving. What matters is how growth has been distributed. Who gained most and who gained least? To answer these questions, I broke down household consumption into four different groups—the poor, the vulnerable, the middle class and the rich—in 167 countries for which distributional data is available, representing 97 percent of the world’s population and 95 percent of global GDP.

Before getting to the punchline, it is helpful to set the stage. In 2010, households in rich countries accounted for over half of global household spending, despite having only 15 percent of the world’s population. Upper-middle-income countries (think China) had 36 percent of the people and 29 percent of consumption; lower-middle-income countries (think India) had 37 percent of the people and 17 percent of the spending; and low-income countries had 11 percent of the people but only 2 percent of global consumption.

Russia’s Puzzling Moves

By George Friedman

Over the past few weeks, two odd things have happened in Russia. The first is that Russian President Vladimir Putin has restructured the government. During his state of the nation address last week, he announced constitutional changes that could lay a path for him to hold on to power beyond 2024, when his current term ends. He also shook up the Russian security command about a month ago and has been moving governors around like chess pieces. Such changes take place in many governments, but the moves are usually understated to increase power without creating a sense of urgency. Putin’s changes were not all that radical given the circumstances, but he went out of his way to make them look radical by removing longtime senior officials like Dmitry Medvedev, who will now serve as deputy chairman of the Security Council.

The second thing that has happened has less substance but is much stranger. Putin has made a series of statements that Poland started World War II, and that the Hitler-Stalin pact was forced on Russia by British and French deals with Germany. The substance of the statements is not worth debating; the Hitler-Stalin pact was no ordinary alliance, but a treaty by which Germany and the Soviet Union would together invade and divide Poland, which they proceeded to do. The claim that Poland started the war mirrors Hitler’s claim that Poland was invaded to protect Germans from Polish brutality.

Top DHS cyber official discusses when Iran may retaliate in cyberspace

Andrew Eversden
UPDATE: This story and headline as updated Jan. 18 to include a clarification from Chris Krebs on Twitter.

The top cybersecurity official at the Department of Homeland Security said that if Iranian cyber actors were to attack the United States in retaliation for a drone strike that killed an Iranian general Jan. 2, it would have already happened.

He later clarified that he was discussing an immediate attack, which would depend on if Iran had pre-existing access to U.S. networks.

In an interview with the National Security Law podcast released Jan. 16, Bobby Chesney, associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Texas law school, asked Chris Krebs, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, how concerned people should be about a cyber response and if anything was different with this cyber threat.

“The truth here is that if the Iranians were going to do something, they would probably — it was already too late," Krebs said in response. “If they were going to do something cyber — cybery — they would probably already be in a position and take the shot. We saw that they really didn’t."

Stanford University finds that AI is outpacing Moore’s Law

By Cliff Saran
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Discover how the allocation of work by algorithm might have advantages for workers as well as employers, how AI is proving its value for HR and how data analytics is being used to support expansion and development.

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Moore’s Law maps out how processor speeds double every 18 months to two years, which means application developers can expect a doubling in application performance for the same hardware cost.

Deterring Attacks Against the Power Grid

by Anu Narayanan

Increased reliance on intelligence processing, exploitation, and dissemination; networked real-time communications for command and control; and a proliferation of electronic controls and sensors in military vehicles (such as remotely piloted aircraft), equipment, and facilities have greatly increased the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)'s dependence on energy, particularly electric power, at installations. Thus, ensuring that forces and facilities have access to a reliable supply of electricity is critical for mission assurance. However, most of the electricity consumed by military installations in the continental United States comes from the commercial grid—a system that is largely outside of DoD control and increasingly vulnerable to both natural hazards and deliberate attacks, including cyberattacks. In this report, researchers explore two approaches that DoD might consider as options for deterring attacks against the power grid: enhancing resilience and reliability to deter by denial and using the threat of retaliation to deter by cost imposition. The report represents a first step in developing frameworks and context to support DoD decisionmaking in this area.

Key Findings

The analysis focuses on two strategies for deterring deliberate attacks on the power grid: denial and cost imposition.

The 5 Biggest Cybersecurity Trends In 2020 Everyone Should Know About

Bernard Marr
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The vital role that cybersecurity plays in protecting our privacy, rights, freedoms, and everything up to and including our physical safety will be more prominent than ever during 2020. More and more of our vital infrastructure is coming online and vulnerable to digital attacks, data breaches involving the leak of personal information are becoming more frequent and bigger, and there’s an increasing awareness of political interference and state-sanctioned cyberattacks. The importance of cybersecurity is undoubtedly a growing matter of public concern.

The 5 Biggest Cybersecurity Trends In 2020 Everyone Should Know AboutADOBE STOCK

We put our faith in technology to solve many of the problems we are facing, both on a global and personal scale. From smartphones and AI personal assistants to space travel, curing cancer, and tackling climate change. But as the world becomes increasingly connected, the opportunities for bad guys to take advantage for profit or political ends inevitably increases. Here’s what will be top of the agenda when it comes to cybersecurity over the coming year:

1. Artificial intelligence (AI) will play an increasing role in both cyber-attack and defense

Prepare For the Worst From Iran Cyber Attacks, As DHS Issues Warning: Experts


WASHINGTON: With the risk of Iranian cyber attacks high enough for the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to issue a warning, experts say the US government and the private sector must accept their sites will go down and be prepared to hit restart.

“I’m going to tell you a painful truth. When you have actors like this that are well trained — in the thousands — by a nation-state, if they are targeting something they will probably succeed,” says Diana Volere, whose (wonderful) title is “Chief Security Evangelist” at Saviynt. Over the past few years “Iran has been successful” in attacking a number of defense and civil aviation firms. Saviynt, based in El Segundo, helps organizations authenticate that people, software and systems accessing their networks are who and what they say they are, and not malicious actors.

Further, experts warn, Iran almost certainly has the cyber tools to inflict physical damage on US critical infrastructure. For example, Volere said, hacking the smart electrical grid could shut down power on the West Coast, or they could target military drones to crash them.

What You Can Do During a Cyber War

By Kristina Libby
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If you assassinate a senior political leader in 1914, you can expect a traditional war to follow. If you assassinate a senior political leader in 2020, it would be foolhardy to assume that only a traditional war will follow.

So as the U.S. prepares to deal with fallout from the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, we must assume, anticipate, and expect that a primary mode of retaliation from Iran will be a cyber attack. And we must prepare for civilians to be caught in the crosshairs.

Most Americans have no idea how to protect themselves from any kind of cyber crime, let alone an offensive, aggressive, and intentionally overt retaliatory attack. Here’s what you need to consider.

“We have been at war with Iran for more than a decade, and people just didn’t realize it,” says James Lewis, the Senior Vice President and Director of the Technology Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The U.S. and Israel targeted Iranian nuclear facilities with the Stuxnet attack in 2009; the attack was intended to cripple Iranian efforts to enhance their nuclear arsenal. For a time it worked; however, as a result, Iran has been improving its own cyber-capability. Like every new weapon introduced in every war theatre in our recorded history, the weapon that once helped gain an advantage can and is now being targeted against us.

Since 2009, Iran has used cyberweapons to attack oil and gas facilities, bank facilities, the electrical grid, and even a tiny dam in upstate New York.

“Iran has been linked to global financial attacks as well as destructive attacks via wiper malware, and increasingly leverages social media for disinformation and pro-regime propaganda,” says Andrea Little Limbago, the Chief Social Scientist at Virtru.

In November 2019, reports came out that Iran was carefully and directly targeting 2,200 facilities with a strong focus on critical infrastructure and critical control systems that regulate our water and electrical grids. While Iran’s capacity to attack is not considered as sophisticated as China or Russia, Peter Singer, a strategist for the think tank New America, emphatically counters, that “to say they have no capability is nonsense.”

An Israeli general put it a slightly different way in 2017 when he said, “They are not the state of the art, they are not the strongest superpower in the cyber dimension, but they are getting better and better.”

“Cyber is the only thing that gives [Iran] the long range reach,” Lewis says. “It’s the easiest way for them to do anything in the U.S.”
Iranians are rallying for retaliation for the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. Could that mean a cyber attack on critical American systems?

When You Can Expect It?

The rising specter of cyber attacks and ensuing public anxiety highlights that we have very little idea about how to prepare for or respond to an attack on the individual level. The government approach to cybersecurity is largely dependent on where the attack occurs: domestic versus abroad, military versus civilian targets. However, the Department of Homeland Security will issue a statement over the threat level, like it did this past weekend, and coordinate and alert the public.

Additionally, a cyber attack with broad public implications will see similar emergency activation services like any other large public threat, such as hurricanes or snowstorms. The problem? We probably won’t know in advance, and it could take out massive aspects—even for short durations—of our critical infrastructure: power, water, television, internet, and cell phone communication networks.


We should and can trust the government to respond to aggressive overtures from a foreign nation. However, we shouldn’t allow our faith in the government to be a cover for our own ignorance about geopolitical threats. At its best, our government is a reflection of the shared intellect of its people. At its worst, it’s a reflection of the ignorance of the population.

An Iranian mourner holds a placard during the funeral processions for Qasem Soleimani.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

Iran has gone after commercial and enterprise related information systems. However, these are primarily in oil and gas, SCADA, and other critical infrastructure-related systems. If you work in those environments, you should be particularly cautious.

Threats from China, Russia, or other nations only have the potential to increase in the heightened state of the current environment. This is because a nation or criminal actor wishing to sow dissent could attack the U.S. and attempt to pin attribution on Iran. Chaos in the system creates opportunity for malicious actors.

This means you should follow the basics of good cybersecurity protection:

“I don’t want to sound alarmist, but the risk of a cyber attack from Iran is higher now than it has ever been,” says Mike Sexton, Program Director at the Middle East Institute. “That’s not necessarily to say that a cyber retaliation is likely, but that we’ve been rolling dice with Iran for a decade in cyberspace, and we’ve just started using a very dangerous new pair of dice.”

The escalation of war could take a number of different scenarios, such as attacking our nuclear program which was recently put online, attacking our satellite infrastructure—which has weak defense mechanisms in place—or attacking a major city. However, Iran is currently unlikely to make an escalation of this level, according to several senior policy leaders and officials.

Instead, we should anticipate that Iran will look for high-profile events (like the U.S. election) to disrupt, or smaller targets that send a message, but don’t risk catastrophic retaliation. This may include second- or third-tier American cities like Tulsa, Tucson, or Toledo.

“[Iran is] looking for vulnerable targets in places that will get attention,” Lewis says. “It’s easier for them to target in the Middle East, but they have probed smaller targets in the U.S.”

Specifically, experts warn against attacks on our oil and gas infrastructure. Iran has ample knowledge of oil and gas infrastructure, has shown a targeted effort to hack systems that support oil and gas, and know they’re a critical foundational resource in the American economic system. As such, there’s also heightened concern about the potential targeting of those pipelines in the U.S. Disabling a pipeline could result in a disruption of service, an explosion, or cause an oil spill.


And it doesn’t need to be an actual explosion, Singer says. Sometimes the threat of an attack is enough if rumors of the attack is then propagated through social media. A tweet of misinformation can cause widespread confusion and chaos. As in all things, double check your sources. If you didn’t trust them before, don’t trust them now.
A Word of Hope

Here’s the good news: It’s unlikely that Iran will respond to the assassination with a cyber attack that will cripple the U.S. for a long period. The risk to Iran isn’t worth the unknown escalatory and retaliatory attack from an administration that’s difficult to predict. As such, we should anticipate a pointed, but smaller scale attack that will shake us, but not destroy the foundations of our country.

That being said, if we don’t learn to protect ourselves individually and collectively, educate ourselves and elect officials who can further protect us, or become wise to and aware of the state of the world around us, we’ll destroy the foundations of our country all on our own.

The jobs forecast is unsettled. It's time for a reskilling revolution

Technology is fundamentally altering the employment relationship.

The Reskilling Revolution aims to provide skills to 1 billion workers within the next five years.

We need strong public-private partnerships to restore the social contract and prepare workers for the future.

Rapid changes in the world are putting pressure on already challenged labour markets in many countries. Societies are experiencing fundamental changes, driven not only by technological advances, but also by demographic and climate change.

The platform economy and the development of new or non-standard forms of work change the very concept of work and the employment relationship. These changes risk exacerbating job polarization, widening wage inequality and poverty.

When the weather forecast says a hurricane is coming, we act. We take precautions for our own homes. We help our neighbours and we join our efforts in local communities. We take joint responsibility because we are aware of the dire consequences if we do not act.