Slovakia’s Leadership in Public Sector Cybersecurity Will Benefit the Visegrád Group and Beyond

John Davis


Category: CSO Perspective

Last month, I had the opportunity to speak at the ITAPA 2017 International Congress in Bratislava, Slovakia. Since 2002, the ITAPA (Information Technologies and Public Administration) conference has been the leading event in Slovakia – and among the most important events in central Europe – on the topic of implementing technology in public administration, as well as on digital society and economic development more generally. This year’s ITAPA conference brought together more than 500 professionals, researchers and policy makers from the Visegrád Group, commonly called V4: Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Throughout ITAPA, the Slovak government emphasized the priority it places on cybersecurity. Slovakia’s efforts to bring people together to discuss e-government, with a strong focus on cybersecurity, impressed me greatly. One example of its importance came from the keynote speaker, Slovak Deputy Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, who stated that it was critical to build a secure EU digital single market. He and other government leaders also made it clear that Slovakia plans to continue to be a leader in cybersecurity, both in terms of driving domestic and regional policy as well as in building up and leveraging its technical capacity.

Another example was the request that I speak at the conference about cybersecurity innovation. My presentation described challenges in the cybersecurity industry and how innovation in technology, processes, and even the human dimension can fix the problem, better enabling organizations to protect our way of life in the digital age. My remarks were intended to provide insight into state-of-the-art cyberattack prevention technologies and best practices based on my 35 years of experience in the U.S. military (the last decade of which I was assigned to organizations responsible for cyber operations, cybersecurity, cyber strategy and cyber policy), as well as my past two years in the cybersecurity industry as chief security officer for the federal sector at Palo Alto Networks.

Finding solutions to cybersecurity challenges was a theme that fit the conference – and its host – perfectly. Slovakia is taking commendable, practical steps on a domestic level. The government continues to build on its 2015 cybersecurity strategy, which established legal and institutional frameworks for cybersecurity, supported cybersecurity education, fostered a risk management culture, encouraged international cooperation, and supported science and research in cybersecurity. Further, by the end of this December, the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office for Investments and Informatization of the Slovak Republic plans to release its cybersecurity strategy as part of the broader strategy for e-government digitalization, which covers eight different areas. In fact, I had the opportunity to talk about this with Martina Slabejova, the local leader in the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office. Martina was brought in from the private sector to help bring new technology and innovation into the government, and she’s leading the agenda for digitalization using examples from Luxemburg, Estonia, the United Kingdom and several other countries considered among the most successful in terms of improving government cybersecurity in the region. On top of this, Slovakia is working on a law to implement the Directive on Security of Network and Information Security, or the NIS Directive, the EU’s forthcoming cybersecurity law that all EU countries must enforce as of May 2018.

However, Slovakia’s efforts are far from solely domestic. It works closely with the V4 countries on a policy and operational level to share best practices in cybersecurity, and it is an active participant in NATO and the EU’s cybersecurity efforts. Slovakia took a leadership role in promoting a cybersecurity agenda when it held the EU presidency in the second half of 2016. I commend Slovakia for its domestic and cross-border efforts. Particularly given the cross-border dependencies in the digital infrastructure, Slovakia’s work with other countries is valuable and necessary.

The most powerful takeaways from my visit were the sheer enthusiasm, energy and resulting action I witnessed from Slovakia and the other V4 countries when it comes to driving government policy, strategy, operations, and necessary cross-governmental, international, and public–private sector partnerships that lead to a successful, safe, and secure digital environment in the future. There’s a ton of hard work yet to be done, but my sincere compliments to Slovakia for leading the way and hosting me at ITAPA. Palo Alto Networks looks forward to continuing to work with the Slovak government, the V4 and beyond to improve cybersecurity in the region.

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