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Cybersecurity News that Matters

Expert advocates global cooperation for transparent spyware ecosystems

Yoon Sang-pil, a research professor at the School of Cybersecurity at Korea University, speaking at the inaugural Cybersecurity Law Forum on Thursday. Photo by Kuksung Nam, The Readable

by Kuksung Nam

Jun. 27, 2024
10:28 PM GMT+9

A cybersecurity expert emphasized the importance of international cooperation to ensure transparency in the surveillance software ecosystem, asserting that such collaboration is crucial to prevent the unethical use of covert technologies, which, if left unchecked, could lead to irreversible consequences such as loss of privacy and erosion of public trust in governing institutions.

Yoon Sang-pil, a research professor at the School of Cybersecurity at Korea University, discussed real-world cases where surveillance software has been used in countries like Mexico and Saudi Arabia to suppress journalists and violate private citizens’ civil liberties. He delivered this speech during the inaugural Cybersecurity Law Forum, hosted by the Law and Policy Research Committee of the Korean Association of Cybersecurity Studies (KACS).

The research professor raised grave concerns about the potential impact of spyware on civil society. Notably, such surveillance technology is not limited to authoritarian regimes but also infiltrates democratic countries.

Citing the findings of the European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry on the use of Pegasus and equivalent surveillance spyware (PEGA) in 2023, Yoon revealed conclusive evidence of such software being deployed in Poland, Greece, Hungary, and Spain. Pegasus, a notorious spyware, is developed by the Israeli company NSO Group, and is known for infiltrating iOS and Android devices without users’ knowledge, secretly collecting information such as texts, emails, location data, and more.

Yoon Sang-pil, a research professor at the School of Cybersecurity at Korea University, speaking at the inaugural Cybersecurity Law Forum on Thursday. Photo by Kuksung Nam, The Readable

In addition to the revelations from the European Union, the professor also cited research from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. According to a 2023 working paper, at least seventy-four governments collaborated with private organizations to acquire surveillance tools between 2011 and 2023. Notably, among these governments, thirty were classified as electoral democracies or, in other words, liberal democracies—a form of government in which the constitution and the rule of law are declared to be supreme.

According to Yoon, incorporating the spyware ecosystem into the international framework is crucial. Adding transparency to this grey zone, where malicious tools are developed and obtained without restrictions, can mitigate potential harm. His suggestion to include surveillance software in the Wassenaar Arrangement aligns with its original purpose—to promote transparency and responsibility in transferring conventional arms and dual-use technologies

“The challenge we also have to consider is the nature of surveillance technologies, which are not as detectable as submarines or missiles,” said the expert. “Another point we need to examine is their dual-use nature. Similar to artificial intelligence technology, it’s not about prohibiting the technology itself, as it can also be used to enhance security.”

Cho Jung-hyun, a professor of international law at the Law School of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, echoed the need for balanced regulation of surveillance software. “Implementing international standards to control malicious software is crucial given the times we are facing,” said Cho. “However, we cannot ignore its positive impacts. We must approach this issue with a balanced perspective.”

Related article: Leaders stress partnership to combat digital threats to democracy

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, left, and United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken applaud during the opening ceremony of the third Summit for Democracy on Monday. Source: U.S. Embassy in Seoul’s official X account

On Monday, global leaders emphasized the need for collaborative efforts between the public and private sectors, alongside international cooperation, in response to the fast-paced evolution of technological tools, highlighting the significant threat such developments pose to the integrity of democratic systems.

During the first session of the multi-stakeholder roundtable at the third Summit for Democracy held in Seoul, United Kingdom Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden remarked on the dual nature of technological advancements, especially in artificial intelligence. “Technological development, particularly in relation to artificial intelligence, has the potential to transform society for the better,” Dowden stated. However, he also warned of the dangers, noting, “But we also need to be alert to the risks posed by potential misuse of these technologies by actors who are looking to undermine trust in our democratic institutions.” The summit, titled “Democracy for Future Generations,” was co-hosted by South Korea, the United States, the UK, and Ecuador.

During the ministerial conference, leaders from 31 countries emphasized the significant positive impact AI technology could have on improving lives by creating new opportunities and accelerating progress across various sectors. However, these global leaders also pointed out the challenges that rapid technological advancements pose to democracy. They specifically warned of the potential for bad actors to misuse cutting-edge technology, particularly in undermining the election process. This concern is especially pertinent in what is being termed a super-election year, with more than 2 billion voters in 50 countries anticipated to head to the polls. READ MORE


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  • Kuksung Nam
    : Author

    Kuksung Nam is a journalist for The Readable. She has extensively traversed the globe to cover the latest stories on the cyber threat landscape and has been producing in-depth stories on security and...

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