Sun & Star: Cyber Great Game: Geopolitics and Geoeconomics for Data

The Great Game refers to the political and diplomatic tensions between the British Empire and Czarist Russia over territories in Central Asia and India over 100 years ago. This concept, popularized by Rudyard Kipling, illustrated the distrust and underlying fear of war between two powers vying to protect and gain physical territories, especially in the rimland of Eurasia. This is how humans have conventionally understood war, as two or more world powers competing to create definitive borders to establish political, economic, and military supremacy. In the 21st century, this concept seems outdated, as international conflicts transcend national borders in the realm of cyberspace. On October 21st, SMU’s Sun & Star Webinar program hosted Dr. Motohiro Tsuchiya, professor and Vice President for Global Engagement and Information Technology at Keio University, to discuss the growing importance of security in what he calls the Cyber Great Game.

Dr. Tsuchiya explained that much of our attention revolves around software concerns, such as data mining and exploitation, election tampering, and hacking, but for all our intangible vulnerabilities, there are tangible, hardware counterparts, such as our devices themselves and data storage sites. He also emphasized how systems that we rely on every day, such as traffic signals and the electric grid, for example, are ripe for cyber-attacks. An attack on these systems could be detrimental to everyday lives as they are easy targets with undeveloped security sectors and have the potential to have a cascading effect across regions or even the country.

One of the topics Dr. Tsuchiya discussed was the pressure points in supply chain transactions, namely disruptive chips embedded in motherboards and servers during the production and transportation processes. This vulnerability is magnified as the number of intermediaries increases, creating more points for malicious actors to intervene. In response to this problem, some Chinese companies have launched initiatives to develop their own technology instead of relying on global supply chains, forcing us to consider how we will respond to this growing concern.

As operational domains of war shift from land, sea, and air to cyberspace, another vulnerability, interestingly enough, is submarine cables. In many, if not all countries, a large portion of internet traffic and a substantial amount of data pass through such cables every day. These cables merge at points called cable landing stations. According to Dr. Tsuchiya’s research, cable landing stations are highly vulnerable to attacks as they are easy to locate, have little to no security, and contain exposed wires and technologies that are easy to disrupt. In coastal areas and on islands, such as Japan, this issue is even more alarming.

Finally, Dr. Tsuchiya shifted to a discussion on the vulnerabilities in our cognitive space. This nonphysical sector allows adversaries to pervade with false information and propaganda and has little to no censorship or authority. While it is difficult to regulate private companies that dominate this space, we must at least be aware of the potential for foreign intervention.

These vulnerabilities demonstrate the transition of our conventional understanding of the Great Game to a new game; one that requires attribution and deterrence in cyberspace and cyber intelligence. Dr. Tsuchiya argued for the development of modern cyber alliances with the UK, Japan, Australia, India, and other allies that are facing similar issues as our world becomes more technologically advanced and interconnected. The webinar ended on an optimistic note: with the right budget and by educating and incentivizing students in cybersecurity, we can at least aim for a safer, more prepared cyber world.

Watch the entire event below:


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This post was written by Saavni Desai ’23, a President’s Scholar and Tower Scholar. She is double majoring in Political Science and International Studies with a focus on the Middle East and North Africa and triple minoring in Arabic, Philosophy, and the Tower Scholars Public Policy and International Affairs minor. She also does research alongside Professor Takeuchi and is involved in Mock Trial, Indian Student Association, and the Alpha Chi Omega sorority.