Cybersecurity and the Estonian Presidency

  • Insights
  • 03/08/2017 09:52

#eu2017ee

People using electronic devices
Cybersecurity, the protection of electronic data, is an important focus of the Estonian Presidency (photo: Stocksnap)

The Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union has set the improving of the digital single market as one of its primary goals. Cybersecurity is a big part of this. Cybersecurity comes in many forms, but in all cases, the goal is to ensure all electronic data is safe from criminal or unauthorised use, and that EU citizens can enjoy all the benefits of digitalisation.

What is cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is the protection of electronic data. Examples of cybersecurity include secure or encrypted networks, and antivirus software, as well as basic cyber hygiene for internet users, such as keeping all passwords secret, and selecting character combinations that are difficult to predict.

In this way, cybersecurity is not only an EU or national government issue – it is also something that involves every citizen.

Cybersecurity is required because the process of digitalisation, which all European society is going through, uses machines to form an automated layer of society, a fundamental pillar of how we live and work. For this to be possible, there needs to be safety and security for everyone. 

Why is cybersecurity important?

Cybersecurity has a preventative aspect, ensuring that anyone who wishes to compromise data security, whether it is a hostile nation state, or a ‘hacktivist’, is not able to do so. In spite of this, it is still worth saying that cybersecurity is an enabler that makes everyone's life easier.

The internet has opened up all aspects of life, from business to travel to communication to culture, like never before. It can be a tremendous force for good, empowering every EU citizen and making business, as well as interaction between people and government, easier and more efficient. 

In order for this to be the case, there needs to be a strong regulatory framework for electronic data, keeping everyone safe and secure. This can help to create a digital single market where everyone can live and work with total confidence in how their information is to be used.

Creating a safe internal market

The Estonian Presidency has a number of digital activities; and as set out in its priorities, a goal of the Estonian Presidency is "to exploit the benefits of the technological progress that is resulting in constant change for citizens, businesses and governments." This means cybersecurity is not about restricting internet usage, but instead helping everyone to learn how to act safely in the digital environment.

Cybersecurity is about member states helping all citizens to learn how to keep themselves safe and secure when surfing the web, banking, sending emails, or taking part in all manner of other activities online. 

One of the most important steps towards creating a digital single market with good cybersecurity was the adoption at EU level of the eIDAS regulation on 23 July 2014. This ensured people and businesses could use their own national electronic identification schemes (eID) to access public services in other member states.

It also meant the creation of an EU internal market for electronic signatures, seals, time stamps, and other methods of authentication. This clever use of technology is something citizens in member states like Estonia have grown used to having in their lives, thanks to contracts and other important documents being signed electronically using their national ID card and a computer smart-card reader. Estonian citizens can do everything from registering births and deaths, to submitting their taxes, online, using their ID cards.

A legal framework is provided by eIDAS to people, companies and public administrations to safely gain access to services and do transactions online and across borders. The activities covered by the eIDAS regulation include the submission of online tax declarations, enrolling in a foreign university, and authenticating internet payments or money transfers.

It’s another example of how EU regulations on online security have made everyone’s lives easier and safer. The result of this is that member states can encourage their citizens to use electronic signatures, and other secure online services, on a more regular basis, widening access to crucial services. 

Cybersecurity and the priorities of the Estonian Presidency

An open and innovative European economy

  • A major part of ensuring the EU economy is open to all, and open to innovation, lies in empowering consumers.
  • Improved cybersecurity means that goods, persons, services and capital can move across borders seamlessly, but also that both senders and recipients can have confidence that transactions will take place as hoped.

A safe and secure Europe

  • Data security is a national and supranational security issue, and at the EU level, member states are working together to protect the EU from cyberattacks. To do this, there must be a realistic and achievable philosophy to cybersecurity, which citizens can believe in.
  • Increased vigilance is required against international cybercrime.
  • The responsibility also falls on individuals and businesses to protect themselves against threats to data security such as malware and ransomware, through good basic cyber hygiene. Citizens must have an understanding of how to stay safe online, and how to avoid involuntarily showing third parties their personal data. Educating and informing people is of paramount importance.

A digital Europe and the free movement of data

  • Cross-border digital public services facilitate everyday life, but they require a high level of protection and security. The Council of the European Union, in cooperation with other EU institutions, is working hard to make this a possibility.
  • Member states must cooperate in order to achieve the seamless movement of data, as the internet allows data to move across borders.

An inclusive and sustainable Europe

  • With a consistently high level of cybersecurity comes better protection for the environment, thanks to more services being handled online with confidence. Greater use of, and confidence in, electronic data means less need for travel to physical locations, for example.
  • Labour mobility becomes much easier if government services, and business services, are handled safely online, because it facilitates the free movement of workers across internal borders within the EU.

Tallinn Digital Summit

The Tallinn Digital Summit, taking place on 29 September as part of the Estonian Presidency, will host a number of discussion on the issues related to digitalisation in the EU.