The Belfer Center for science and international affairs is Harvard Kennedy School’s research hub. Founded in 1973, it had the aim of providing analysis and training on arms control and nuclear threat reduction. Currently, it is headed by former US Defense Secretary Ash Carter and its research areas are more extensive than at the outset. They now address the needs of a multipolar world with more dynamic and diffuse threats than during the Cold War.

Given that cyberattacks are part of this new threat scenario, it makes sense that areas of research now include cyberwarfare and cybersecurity and that these issues play an increasingly significant role. This is reflected by the publication of the National Cyber Power Index 2020 in September, which draws up a ranking of the world’s leading cyber powers.

National evaluations_

The report analyzes the ‘cyber capabilities’ of 30 countries, though the Belfer Center underlines that, unlike other rankings, they do not consider that there is a single metric to measure the power of a nation’s cyber capabilities. They claim that this consists of several components and that, in any case, they should always be considered in the context of the specific national aims of each country. For this reason, the report assesses government strategies, their cyberdefense and cyberattack capabilities, their allocation of resources, the private sector and workforce, and innovation through various indicators and seven national objectives. The seven national objectives are:

  1. Surveilling and Monitoring Domestic Groups
  2. Strengthening and Enhancing National Cyber Defenses
  3. Controlling and Manipulating the Information Environment
  4. Foreign Intelligence Collection for National Security
  5. Commercial Gain or Enhancing Domestic Industry Growth
  6. Destroying or Disabling an Adversary’s Infrastructure and Capabilities
  7. Defining International Cyber Norms and Technical Standards

Under these parameters, the assessment measures a country’s demonstrated capabilities (its current power) but also its future potential, and the final score assumes that the government of that country can wield these capabilities effectively. They therefore conclude that the most comprehensive cyber power is the country that has (1) the intent to pursue multiple national objectives using cyber means and (2) the capabilities to achieves those objective(s). This is defined by the following formula:

In line with this formula, the 10 leading cyber powers across all seven objectives are: USA, China, UK, Russia, Netherlands, France, Germany, Canada, Japan, and Australia. Nevertheless, although the USA is the first in capabilities, the study lists China first in terms of future potential. Moreover, countries’ scores vary greatly according to the various parameters and objectives. Spain, for example, does not appear in the top ten of the general ranking, but is fourth in terms of cyberattack capabilities and for this area in particular they have used the open list of APT groups of the analyst Florian Roth.


Innovation to prevent attacks_

 With a few exceptions, such as the presence of the Netherlands and notable absences such as India, the Top 10 of the study highlights a clear correlation between economic power (most also figure prominently in GDP rankings), their “hard power” (major military powers and permanent members of the UN Security Council), and their ranking as cyber powers. This shows how cybersecurity is a factor that is increasingly important for governments in terms of national defense strategies and foreign influence.

Yet under such a competitive geopolitical scenario, the only way for many countries to cope with adversaries that may have more resources or greater human capital to launch sophisticated cyberattacks is to commit decisively to innovation. Advanced solutions such as Cytomic’s platform with Cytomic Orion represent a formidable ally for a country’s SOCs. It provides the technology to accelerate their threat hunting capacity as well as detection and response to the most complex threats that often come from state-sponsored groups. In the end, these greater capabilities can provide a huge competitive advantage in the international cyberdefense and cybersecurity race.