Examining the state-of-the-art of cybersecurity

Internet security and data protection concept, photo by anyaberkut/Adobe Stock

anyaberkut/Adobe Stock

This project was part of a broader effort in support of the development of an overarching research agenda for the Dutch national counterterrorism coordinator (NCTV).

Researchers found that an overarching challenge in the field of cybersecurity is its complexity and poor definition. Research often suffers from inadequate or missing data and methods – both in the technical and the policy domains. Additionally, knowledge or research gaps are frequent and often persistent.

Background

Digital transformation has reshaped our world and will continue to disrupt the status quo. While technology is a key driver for realising societal and economic benefits, it also brings about new security challenges.

The government of the Netherlands, Dutch businesses, civil society and individuals currently face a range of prominent, emerging and resurgent cybersecurity risks and threats. As concluded in the Cyber Security Assessment Netherlands (CSAN) from the Netherlands National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV), the country’s digital resilience continues to lag behind the growing cyber threat.

Goals

RAND Europe was commissioned by the Netherlands Research and Documentation Centre (WODC), on behalf of the NCTV, to examine the current state-of-the-art in the field of cybersecurity. This study was part of a broader programme of work which aimed to develop a broad research agenda for the NCTV, which also included two other state-of-the-art studies in the fields of crisis management and counterterrorism published separately by the WODC.

Specifically, the study addressed the following questions:

  1. What are the most prominent current and emerging cybersecurity topics that are being investigated?
  2. Which of these prominent cybersecurity topics fall within the NCTV’s domain?
  3. How can priority cybersecurity issues be further explored through future NCTV directed research activities?

Methodology

The study team used a structured mixed-methods research approach, which involved a literature review and targeted desk research of current and emerging cybersecurity issues, as well as interviews and a workshop with European and Dutch cybersecurity subject matter experts.

Findings

An overarching challenge in the field of cybersecurity is its complexity and poor definition

The boundaries of the field of cybersecurity are constantly and rapidly evolving and it can be challenging to identify which areas have been researched and which ones remain overlooked or poorly understood.

Research in the field of cybersecurity often suffers from inadequate or missing data and methods – both in the technical and the policy domains

The field seems to suffer from a scarcity of reliable, verifiable data, and particularly large scale, longitudinal datasets, across many of the clusters. This makes it challenging to define, articulate and ultimately understand the nature of the challenge or problem, as well as what could potentially be done to mitigate it.

Knowledge or research gaps are frequent and often persistent

The identified gaps include: a lack of research into cybersecurity within the national security context; the governance of cybersecurity; ethics and legal concerns; and a number of emerging topics such as the dark experts web, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, cryptocurrencies and quantum-related technologies.

Over 60 prominent cybersecurity issues or perceived research gaps were identified

The research team consolidated over 60 identified issues and gaps into key themes, producing a shortlist of 11 topics perceived to be the most prominent for the NCTV and the national security of the Netherlands.