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The role of the individual in the great game of cyber intelligence

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Balancing on the tight-rope between digital opportunities and security
Balancing on the tight-rope between digital opportunities and security

In the current debate over Edward Snowden, there are two opposing attitudes to consider: the ideology of individualism and the interest in Edward Snowden as an individual.

Snowden, the individual, prioritised himself and his values and interests over those of his country. His conscience allowed him to believe that disclosing classified information was acceptable and technology was able to provide him with the means to conceal the documents.

However, the increasing interest in the surveillance of individuals from every government also suggests individualism. Individuals have become an important source of intelligence, with every individual capable of causing substantial damage and being potentially dangerous, regardless of social class. With the help of technology, potential danger can be avoided.

In this on-going debate, the solution is to identify who is on whose side in the great game of cyber intelligence. Throughout history, intelligence has had three primary motivators: political, military and economic gain. Military strategists and political theorists praised intelligence as a game changer, as it has also been used to gain a commercial or technological advantage – or to fill in a competitive gap.

The relationships between these motivators have varied throughout the course of history. Intelligence has proven to be a game changer, with a purpose to construct a comprehensive view of a certain situation and to understand the forces that influence it. It requires the analysis of several factors and the intentions of multiple individuals. Even if the basic principles of intelligence remain constant, the nuances of intelligence evolve alongside social and material contexts.

What is considered as unacceptable or acceptable and profitable is essential in this constantly evolving culture. Because of this, suitable methods of information collection and the individuals worth finding information about change historically and vary culturally.

Unthinkable methods often deliver the advantage a business is looking for. The role of insiders to trick and deceive cannot be disregarded as individuals can act as whistle blowers.

In a modern society, information is the most valuable asset as it provides both a competitive edge and strategic advantage. Because of this, the efforts to collect and filter valuable or controversial information and to hide it have intensified.

The evolution of technology has always created opportunities for both intelligence and counter-intelligence. For example, the evolution of telegraphing, photograph or aviation, or more recently computers and the numerous networks enabled by technology, have all had an impact on intelligence.

Regardless of the efforts to conceal important information, information is widely available due to the interconnectivity of technology and the ubiquity of cyber space.

Cyber intelligence has emerged from the evolution of signals intelligence, with new opportunities emerging as technology and society develops. Therefore, the electronic traits that individuals have left behind have multiplied over the past few decades, proving to be an efficient intelligence approach.

Additionally, technical skills, such as big data analysis, are now available to analyse these traits. However, intelligence remains to be embedded in the physical world as cyber efforts often need to be coupled with more traditional intelligence methods, such as wiretapping or honey trapping.

The concept of cyber intelligence remains blurred. It has been used in reference to technical and automated information collection and is frequently referred to as to 'cyber threat intelligence', often provided by private firms on commercial grounds. It has also been referred in a wider context, called cyber intelligence or 'cyber collection', which is part of the overall intelligence efforts conducted by governments.

In the cyber era, the question to be asked is whether 'cyber threat intelligence' and 'cyber collection' can be distinguished. This is important for individuals who are looking for the best solutions to address their own cyber challenges.

In attempts to enhance government capabilities, cyber intelligence has had a central role, providing many opportunities for defence and offence. For this reason, public and private businesses are allocating resources for the development of cyber capabilities, which has increased the relative power of the cyber-industrial complex.

This on-going debate over right and wrong in cyber intelligence is due to the colliding developments of individual tendencies in social situations and technological development.

The modern world is infiltrated by technology and the virtual space that it provides us, which enables vast amounts of data on individuals to be collected. However at the same time, democracy and individualism demands respect for an individual's rights and freedom.

Information collection is only part of the problem. Bigger questions, such as 'how is information categorised, stored, handled, disseminated and protected?', 'what happens to the information?' and 'who will eventually own the data?' should be asked by individuals about their own personal life.

Jarno Limnéll is director of cyber security at Stonesoft

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