Chatham House
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Selling digital insecurity


Addressing the sale of digital insecurity requires addressing its root causes and a coherent response from states, civil society, and the private sector.

Offensive cyber capabilities pose a significant threat to national and international security. In many cases, these capabilities are a legitimate national security tool. However, such capabilities can also cause significant – and often unpredictable – damage. 

The use of these capabilities to spread disinformation, mount disruptive cyberattacks, and launch hack-and-leak operations has derailed elections, silenced dissenting political voices, disrupted the lives of individuals, communities, companies, and even entire governments. 

Although the most advanced offensive cyber capabilities are still held by states, there is a growing global marketplace for digital insecurity, with capabilities ranging from openly advertised services to more opaque, bespoke contracts and cybercriminal markets. 

This week, the White House announced an executive order including several new measures to combat risks posed by commercial spyware to human rights and US national security. As noted in the UK’s recent Integrated Review Refresh, the fusion of cyber threats generated by the sale of digital insecurity demands a coherent response. The UK’s new International Technology Strategy also commits to protecting security interests through ensuring sensitive technology does not fall into hostile hands.  

To address the sale of digital insecurity, states must work with civil society, victims and the private sector. They must also cooperate with major tech companies, particularly those that have been exploited as attack vectors. More controversially, states should cooperate with genuinely responsible companies offering commercial hacking and online influence services – those willing to demonstrate respect for human rights and operate within the boundaries of national and international law – while also maximizing pressure from their investors and financial backers.

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