Future insecurity: exploring malicious uses of digital networks

11 February 2019
A year-long Global Forum at the University of Sydney will investigate how the malicious use of digital networks by states and other global actors is producing a new precariousness in global politics.

“‘The future ain’t what it used to be’ – the folkloric wisdom of the great Yogi Berra, catcher and coach of the New York Yankees, rings even more true in our troubled times, where nostalgia for a mythic past and fear of an unpredictable future are regularly used to rally a nation, demonize the enemy or/and elect unlikely leaders. ‘Make America Great (Again)’ is only the most recent version of a common patriotic trope for mobilising false memories and inflated hopes,” says Centre for International Security Studies Director Professor James Der Derian.

“What differs now from Yogi’s time is general access to highly effective and relatively cheap ways to grift the future: generate the algorithms, fire up the bots, insert the malware, and wait for the technology to make you master of the moment if not the universe.

“The dream of a better life through interconnectivity has become a nightmare of cyber-balkanisation, of populations divided and dominated through all manner of digital machinations.”

The Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney has responded to these new cyberforces of precarity with ‘Future Insecurity’, a year-long Global Forum designed to investigate the most pernicious use of digital networks, including industry, military, media, political, intelligence networks and international institutions that impact peace and security.

“The Forum builds on the intellectual legacy of two great Australian scholars:

  • the political philosopher, John Anderson, who taught at the University of Sydney for more than 30 years under the rubric that ‘the Socratic education begins with the awakening of the mind to the need for criticism, to the uncertainty of the principles by which it supposed itself to be guided’; 
  • and the international relations theorist, Hedley Bull, perhaps the most famous of Anderson’s students, who believed that inquiry has its own morality, and is necessarily subversive of political institutions and movements of all kinds, good as well as bad,” says Professor Der Derian.

“The Global Forum seeks to revive but also go beyond the skeptical approaches of Anderson and Bull, by offering policy alternatives to the destructive cyberconflicts and geopolitics of the day. Or, as Yogi also said, ‘You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there’.”

The first Future Insecurity event, ‘Tracking digital espionage’, will see Professor Ron Deibert, digital detective and founder of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, and Dr Aim Sinpeng, co-founder of the Sydney Cybersecurity Network, investigate the hidden surveillance systems used to spy on civil society.

In March, the Forum will also host David Sanger (National Security Correspondent, The New York Times), Kalypso Nicolaidis (Director, Centre for International Studies, Oxford University),  Chris Demchak (Director, Center for Cybered Conflict Studies, Naval War College) and Lucas Kello (Director, Centre for Technology and Global Affairs, Oxford University).  Edited video versions of the Forum will be made available online.

The Forum is supported by the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and School of Social and Political Sciences, and held in collaboration with The New York Times in Australia.

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