By US Ambassador to Kuwait Alina L Romanowski
This year, Kuwait and the United States will celebrate the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our nations. As we commemorate this important milestone, it is important to take stock of what we have achieved in this relationship, as well as what we still must accomplish together. Thirty years ago, a coalition of 38 countries led by the United States helped liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation – an experience that has bonded Kuwait and the United States forever. Today, there are new threats facing our countries, and the United States is again prepared to stand with the people of Kuwait to ensure peace and prosperity throughout the region.
Recent incidents demonstrate that the battlefield today has moved into cyberspace. In 2019 Iranian cyber espionage campaign targeted critical networks in Kuwait. During the first half of 2020 there were 1,305 cyber-attacks in Kuwait tied to COVID-19. Recently, Russia attacked the United States in the largest spying operation in history.
These incidents validate how malicious state and non-state actors can exploit vulnerabilities in mobile networks, data, internet connectivity, social media, and artificial intelligence. Since these digital tools are integrated in critical and non-critical infrastructure such as the energy grid, water distribution system, transportation, and military and law enforcement networks, things we rely on everyday can now be disabled or destroyed with keystrokes rather than missiles and bombs.
While tanks and missiles still defend our physical borders and important installations, it is crucial to complement them with strong cyber defenses against those intent on causing widespread damage to our financial systems, national security, privacy, and our democratic way of life. Given how interconnected we are and how much we depend upon each other, if our networks are vulnerable, those vulnerabilities pose a security threat to our allies and partners.
This is why the United States is urging our partners to develop open, interoperable, reliable, and secure networks. We strongly encourage our allies and partners, including Kuwait – whose national security the United States is committed to protect – to craft legislation, regulations, and other measures that ensure our common security in 5G and other networks. These measures include supporting vendor diversity and transparent standards via national regulatory frameworks. Participating in organizations that develop and help implement telecom standards and developing a skilled workforce that supports these goals are also important.
As the United Sates and Kuwait continue to strengthen our partnership, we want to foster a more robust and diverse information and communication technology supply chain that would allow Kuwait to exclude untrusted vendors and build a network that enables secure transmission of data on 5G networks.
In addition to ensuring data privacy and protecting against hackers, a secure and safe telecom infrastructure is key to attracting multinational tech companies and businesses. Kuwait aspires to be a data hub between the Middle East and Europe. But, to attract reliable, world-renowned, and cutting-edge technology firms, Kuwait must assure data safety and security, and build strong cyber defenses by investing in trusted vendors and clean networks.
In a networked world, economic prosperity and the strength and security of our relationship can only be assured if we are unified in our approach to cybersecurity. Today once again our nations must unite as we did thirty years ago. This time, we must build our collective cyber-defense, against an enemy that may already be lurking within our critical systems ready to inflict damage not only on us but also on our allies and partners.
Just as the pandemic has shown us that wearing a mask protects ourselves as well as others, we must protect our mutual interests by wearing a mask of strong cybersecurity defenses. The United States is ready to support the people of Kuwait to prepare for and defend against cyber threats. By doing this, we will expand and deepen the historic partnership between our nations that has created decades of peace and prosperity.