Cyber ​​security: the four scenarios that may emerge in 2040

While we are following with extreme caution the development of the war in Ukraine in all its aspects, especially cyber, and although the new French government will soon have to define its digital roadmap, it seems important for us to develop scenarios for long-term development for cybersecurity . Among the consequences of the Covid-19 crisis, the acceleration of digital transformation is beyond doubt, and the place it is given in our lives does not seem to be called into question, on the contrary.

Before we throw ourselves headlong into this technological race, should we not then ask ourselves about the possible evolutionary scenarios in terms of cybersecurity? Four scenarios may emerge in 2040 and inspire us to make the right choices now.

Scenario No. 1: the digital space, the space of peace and prosperity, the common good of humanity

In 2040, due to a technological breakthrough caused by intense research, combined with a global awareness of the importance of preserving this now vital new space, the digital space is declared for the common good of mankind in the United Nations General Assembly. It is protected by international conventions that prohibit its militarization, respect for privacy and its high level of security precludes the possibility of criminal action. A special agency will be set up for him, modeled on the World Health Organization or the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

This scenario, which is resolutely optimistic and therefore unlikely, is nonetheless plausible and will allow everyone to take advantage of the benefits of digital technology. More generally, the high degree of trust in the digital space allows technological acceleration to serve the great challenges of our time, especially around health and the energy transition. There are precedents, such as Antarctica or the deep seabed, that benefit from this status, which has been respected until now.

Scenario # 2: the digital space at the time of the balance of power

By 2040, through global investment and regulation, the digital space has become a vital space with a high level of security. Only powerful states are capable, at great cost, of confronting it. They do so with great restraint, as their respective societies and economies, as well as global trade, would suffer from a deterioration in digital security. Cybercrime would have disappeared because of the cost and the expertise it requires.

How to establish a balance, analogous to the current airspace, globally inaccessible to non-state actors: Air battles are rare, especially due to the price of modern fighter jets, and citizens trust the airlines. A digital security council would be set up which only counts the major powers in this space as permanent members.

Scenario No. 3: digital space, controlled uncertainty

In 2040, as today, digital uncertainty is present, but remains on a relative scale that does not call into question the model we know. States adopt positions, establish rules and pursue incentive policies to increase the level of security. Nevertheless, they do so while continually carrying out offensive actions to preserve their interests, even if it means destabilizing the security structure they are building elsewhere.

Cybercrime continues by exploiting vulnerabilities and reusing offensive techniques and tools developed by states, but its impact is sustainable, both politically and economically, especially thanks to the insurance system. Unfortunately, just like in material space, the weakest (vulnerable users, small businesses and fragile states) remain the first victims.

Scenario 4: Lack of trust The global digital space collapsed and regional alternatives were born

In 2040, a few years after a wave of scattered attacks globally, some of which had major human and economic consequences, the digital space that had evolved without borders collapsed. The totally global model, which had become unmanageable, with uncontrolled data localization, technological monopolies dictating their conditions, voiceless international law, and ineffective national rights, is deeply questioned by states and citizens.

New spaces, based on a national or regional approach, have been built. In addition to the legal aspects, they rely on differentiated technologies to avoid systemic effects; quality and safety are potentially regulated at the expense of price and innovation; interfaces are controlled, etc.

In such a scenario, the beginning of which is already noticeable with China and Russia, insecurity, both of state and cybercriminal origin, has not disappeared, it has even increased in the most fragile regions. Finally, in this hypothesis, the digital space, by losing its universal specificity, brought itself in line with the physical space, for better or worse.

Of course, the future is unwritten, and the most likely scenario is a combination of the four proposed. A constant must be reinforced today: the need to invest in cybersecurity technologies and competencies so that Europe can master its future. This is the common premise for these four scenarios.

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