Ahead of this week’s ITU Regional Workshop for Europe on “National Cybersecurity Strategies” in Skopje, Republic of North Macedonia, ITU News caught up with H.E. Damjan Manchevski, Minister of Information Society and Administration of the Republic of North Macedonia. He shared his insight on the latest challenges and opportunities regarding cybersecurity in the region.
The Western Balkans region has been a synonym of political and economic instability and turmoil for a long period of time. Much like the rest of the world, regional economies have faced numerous security threats and challenges, with an increasing number of attacks occurring in cyberspace.
Although the socio-economic and political conditions vary across the region, we are all facing the danger of cyberattacks and Western Balkan governments list this threat as one of their national priorities.
Identifying the national strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities is a major step towards strengthening the national cybersecurity capacities. In this manner, most of the regional economies conduct cybersecurity evaluations, develop new operational and strategic plans, and establish cybersecurity authorities and entities. Educational programs have been developed to meet the demand for cybersecurity professionals in the current and future job market. Overall, the Western Balkans is going through a transformative process of raising awareness of cybersecurity risks and opportunities.
“With the expertise and support of ITU in several activities in the field of connectivity and cybersecurity, North Macedonia not only benefits from strengthening the national cybersecurity capacities, but is also a facilitator of regional and international cooperation.”
However, setting up strategic plans and objectives is not sufficient. The cybersecurity landscape is changing quickly and our governments need to stay abreast of new and future vulnerabilities and attacks. At the same time, implementation of the defined objectives and projects is a process that requires significant resources. The lack of resources is a major difficulty for regional economies.
Thus, the Western Balkans have an opportunity to strengthen national cyberdefences and security capacities by including different stakeholders and actors nationally and within the international community. We need to rethink the role of the private sector, the academia and civil society. We also need to use the good practises from our neighbours and educate our youth to be able to respond to the global growth of the cybersecurity industry and workforce demand.
ITU enjoys global recognition as a strong partner for many economies worldwide. In fact, North Macedonia has already established successful cooperation with the ITU on several levels.
With the expertise and support of ITU in several activities in the field of connectivity and cybersecurity, North Macedonia not only benefits from strengthening the national cybersecurity capacities, but is also a facilitator of regional and international cooperation.
The Macedonian experience is one that demonstrates how fast progress can be achieved towards comprehensive national cybersecurity capacity building. On the doorstep of NATO and soon the EU, the Republic of North Macedonia is becoming an ever more attractive target for cyber-crime. Naturally, cybersecurity became one of the key priorities for the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia. The combination of strong political will and prioritization of cybersecurity capacity building with the support from our strategic partners, resulted in momentous results during 2018.
“Hosting the ITU Cyber Security Workshop is a prime example of North Macedonia’s commitment to facilitate regional and international cooperation, making clear that the size of a nation’s territory does not determine the impact of its commitment to regional security.”
Building on the sporadic and ad-hoc activities conducted at organizational or institutional levels in the past, at the beginning of 2018, North Macedonia established a clear and strategic vision for cybersecurity capacity building in North Macedonia. Capitalizing on the high-quality cybersecurity capacity review in cooperation with the World Bank and the University of Oxford, as well as national analysis, the National Cyber Security Strategy and Action Plan for the period 2018-2022 have been developed. Both were adopted by the Government in 2018.
The Strategy and Action Plan were developed not only with the support of international partners and the European Commission, but also by means of public consultation processes.
As a government, we are committed to transparency and involvement of all sectors of society.
In this manner, the contents of the Strategy and Action Plan have been the subject of public debate, where representatives from the public, private, civil sector, academia and other areas had the opportunity to provide comments and suggestions.
This willingness from our side for capacity building has been complemented with strong multi-stakeholder cooperation, where each organization coming from different sectors of society has been engaged in reviewing the content but also providing their experience and expertise.
“I am confident that ITU will continue to be a strong partner to North Macedonia.”
I believe that hosting the ITU Cybersecurity Workshop is a prime example of North Macedonia’s commitment to facilitate regional and international cooperation, making clear that the size of a nation’s territory does not determine the impact of its commitment to regional security. This workshop brings together from across the Western Balkans and across the globe those committed to crafting a better future and exchanging ideas and sharing best practices.
Cybersecurity capacity building requires significant use of governmental resources. Acquiring financial, human and technological resources is often seen as an unnecessary investment. To facilitate awareness raising and faster response to the ever-changing cybersecurity landscape, Western Balkans economies may take joint efforts in the process of building a strong regional cyberculture and awareness across different sectors of society.
Having a solid cybersecurity culture is one of the foundations of an open, safe and secure cyberspace. Hence, raising the awareness for cyber security threats and promoting cybersecurity among citizens and organizations through education and sharing of good practices has been a vital element in the national cybersecurity capacity building. Conducting joint cybersecurity awareness raising campaigns and public engagement with different stakeholders would have much deeper impact if conducted on a regional scale.
The cross-border cooperation in the field of cybersecurity at different levels of society is an important aspect of the Macedonian National Cyber Security Strategy and Action Plan 2018-2022.
Having in mind the already established cooperation with the ITU in the field of connectivity and broadband development, as well as the recent interest of both parties in strengthening the regional cybersecurity outlook, I am confident that ITU will continue to be a strong partner to North Macedonia.
Days from now, national experts from the region and broader Europe will gather in Skopje to review and assess national cybersecurity strategies. I hope that this event will bring out new ideas of regional and international cooperation, and result in establishing new partnerships.
In the process of mapping global cybersecurity capacity building projects, it encourages me to think that we are contributing to the process of creating a shared global vision with the support of the international community and our cross-border partners.