Cybersecurity is critical to international development and humanitarian aid, said USAID Administrator Samantha Power. Speaking at the Countering Ransomware Initiative Summit in early November, she underscored that USAID works to advance development across a wide spectrum of sectors, as well as democracy, governance, and human rights. Each of these sectors is increasingly using digital technologies, which in turn need to be protected from cyber threats.
As Administrator Power recently said in a tweet, “Development is digital, and all technologies are vulnerable to cyber-attacks.”
Ransomware is a form of cyber-attack against a computer system wherein the attacker takes a victim’s data hostage and then extorts money for its release. These attacks use malware to encrypt a victim’s files, making them inaccessible, and attackers will sometimes threaten to publish sensitive data if they are not paid.
In recent years, ransomware attacks have affected both U.S. partner nations and international development organizations.
To reduce cyber vulnerabilities, USAID is strengthening cyber protections for its programs, as well as the cybersecurity of partner governments. Digital technology has an incredible capacity to drive development progress. To enable that capacity, international development organizations must prioritize cybersecurity to prevent potentially catastrophic cyber-attacks.
The 2017 NotPetya cyberattack against Ukraine is a particularly vivid example of the impact cyber-attacks can have on a country's development trajectory, said Administrator Power. “That attack hit at least four hospitals in the capital alone, six power companies, two airports, more than 22 banks, and almost every federal agency. All were brought to essentially a standstill as the systems that allowed them to perform everyday tasks were taken offline,” said Administrator Power. “NotPetya had caused an estimated 10 billion dollars in global economic damage in Ukraine.”
The lesson the world learned from the NotPetya attack is that cybersecurity is crucial to ensure sustainability across every sector of development. Today, USAID works with partners around the world, in governments, nonprofit organizations, universities, and private companies to strengthen their cybersecurity skills and protect their digital systems. These efforts are driving “sustainable, locally led digital transformation that is absolutely critical to lifting countries out of poverty, helping them escape death and distress,” said Administrator Power.
“Helping our partners strengthen their own cybersecurity protections not only helps prevent attacks that can halt or reverse development progress,” said Administrator Power. “It also opens up a whole new world of possibility to use technology to supercharge development progress.”