quotes Importance of cyber diplomacy in Saudi Arabia

15 November 2021
Short Url
Updated 15 November 2021

Importance of cyber diplomacy in Saudi Arabia

What is cyber diplomacy and why is it so important?
It is best described as the way nations can live and let live by achieving diplomatic cooperation among state and nonstate actors to work together to respond to challenges in cyberspace.
Cyberspace and diplomacy are directly related to each other; with the speed of innovation and growth of technological advancements in cyberspace, the whole world is now as if in one room under the same roof, yet each nation continues to have different strategic national interests, various domains of land, sea, and air, and diverse ideological motives.
The concept of cyber diplomacy has therefore become essential to building peace and cooperation and developing diplomatic tools in such a contested space.
Cyber diplomacy is a subset of science diplomacy which, according to the Quasar International Institute, “is the use of scientific collaborations among nations to address common problems and to build constructive international partnerships.”
Establishing cyber diplomacy between state and nonstate actors can help to prevent a cyber arms race, develop domestic and global norms, and harness the potential and power of cyber initiatives to better connect people around the world. It has similar benefits to so-called vaccine diplomacy, which has increased the soft power of Saudi Arabia, the US, and China. When these countries deliver vaccines to the world, it promotes their soft-power messages.
Cybersecurity has become a more important priority for the Kingdom. A report from the US Saudi Business Council, said: “Back in 2012, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia expenditures increased on cybersecurity from $7.8 billion to $15.4 billion, while in 2020 they reached the amount of $27.2 billion.”
Meanwhile, according to an American Center for Strategic and International Studies report on all the cyberattacks carried out between May 2006 and June last year, only 15 were found to pose a significant threat to national security.
In the 2020 Cybersecurity Exposure Index and the same year’s Cyber Risk Index, Saudi Arabia was globally ranked 31st, and 25th to 26th, respectively, on its vulnerability to cybercrime.
A large number of Saudi citizens are young people, an important section of the population considered a key cog in helping to achieve the ambitions of the country’s Vision 2030 reform plan. They have access to the internet, and 25 million of them have social network accounts, raising potential cybersecurity risks.

The concept of cyber diplomacy has become essential to building peace and cooperation and developing diplomatic tools in such a contested space.

Dr. Zeyad Alshammari

In 2017, the Kingdom established the National Cybersecurity Authority to improve the country’s cybersecurity by preparing internal analyses, pursuing legal solutions, and building cyber diplomacy and scientific collaborations with other nations to address common problems and promote international stability in cyberspace.
In May 2020, Saudi Arabia was the victim of an unsuccessful espionage campaign led by the Iranian group, Chafer APT. The Kingdom’s preparations and cybersecurity planning were vital to ensuring it was an unsuccessful attack.
Since then, Saudi Arabia has made significant progress in strengthening its ability to prevent cyberattacks and address cyberspace risks. In 2021, the Kingdom ranked second globally among 193 countries, and first among Arab states, in the Global Cybersecurity Index issued by the UN specialized agency in information and communications technology, the International Telecommunication Union.
Vision 2030 prioritizes cyber diplomacy as a solution to mitigate potential massive security risks, including political and economic, and potential conflicts emanating from cyberspace and cybersecurity threats.
A fundamental aim of cyber diplomacy is to encourage leaders to understand multipolar power systems and international stability and support them in seeking stability in cyberspace. There has been increasing recognition that Saudi Arabia can promote national interests through cybersecurity policies and citizen engagement strategies.
Continuing to build both cybersecurity and cyber diplomacy will raise social awareness of cyber threats and create a more secure cyberspace environment for the implementation of the 2030 strategy. Saudi Arabia has recognized it must develop a strategic cybersecurity vision that reflects the nation’s goals, and strong efforts should be made to strengthen foreign partnerships.
In 2019, another three bodies related to the NCA were created. The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority is responsible for the elaboration of data storage strategies and development of AI through its National Center for Artificial Intelligence, and Saudi Commission for Data and Artificial Intelligence.
And earlier this year, the Saudi Ministry of Education and the NCA signed an agreement to launch joint training and research programs in cybersecurity.
These internal partnerships between Saudi agencies are of great importance in investing in cybersecurity initiatives, and form part of the realization of Vision 2030.
The Ministry of Education and the NCA have already implemented several joint projects, including scholarships for cyberspace research and the development of higher education in the domain of cybersecurity.
Additional recent developments in cyber diplomacy by the Kingdom have included working with the US, and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, to increase diplomacy and cooperation on cybersecurity. The Saudi National Cybersecurity Center inked an agreement with the World Economic Forum to explore cybersecurity cooperation, and the Kingdom also signed a cooperation deal with the UN to empower children in cyberspace.
Cyber diplomacy is the key to reducing future risks of cyberattacks and cybercrime and curtailing violent and damaging conflicts among nations and non-state actors.

• Dr. Zeyad Alshammari is the co-founder and executive director of the Quasar International Institute in Washington, DC, and adjunct professor for political science, international relations, and cyber diplomacy at NOVA. Twitter: @zeyad9999