Ambassador Leonard’s Remarks at the International Stakeholders Conference on Digital Technology and Cybersecurity

Good morning. It is a pleasure to be here with you today. Digital technologies offer exciting and incredibly promising opportunities, but they also carry with them the need to ensure an effective plan to prevent and respond to cybersecurity threats. As everyone here knows, any effective approach to cybersecurity requires the collaboration of experts across sectors and borders. It is very exciting to see the variety of stakeholders and specialists present here for today’s discussion.

The pandemic has been the impetus for the accelerated digitization of everything from household shopping to medical care. Digital technologies are building the skilled workforce of the future, enabling students to learn advanced material in university courses from thousands of miles away. Even micro firms are finding ways to put their products and services online to reach new customers. Right here in Nigeria, innovators are using digital tools to improve agricultural productivity and increase farm yields, opening new horizons of hope for food security in this region.

But just as these digital technologies create exciting new opportunities – particularly for an entrepreneurial, young, and innovative population like Nigeria’s – these technologies also introduce new threats and risks of misuse. As more of our lives and our business move onto digital platforms, it becomes ever more important to pursue an internet that is open, interoperable, secure, and reliable. While all democracies face the challenges of hateful and divisive speech – ours included – freedom of expression, including through the internet, is an essential element of a strong, tolerant democratic society. Like the United States, Nigeria has made significant strides in securing the digital economy and combatting cybercrime, as evidenced by its invitation to accede to the Budapest Convention on cybercrime. At the same time, however, both of our countries have a long way to go to reduce the risks that these threats in cyberspace pose.

We have all seen the disruption that hackers can cause to critical infrastructure, the human costs of ransomware attacks on hospitals, and the consequences when foreign interference undermines democratic processes. Nigeria was among the countries that attended a counter-ransomware meeting that the White House convened in October, where attendees jointly recognized the economic and security consequences of ransomware and set forth areas of cooperation to combat the challenge.

The United States is committed to working with our international partners to advance cybersecurity, promote stability in cyberspace, and ensure shared prosperity in our increasingly interconnected world. The historic infrastructure bill that our Congress passed into law last month will make important strides in closing the digital divide in the United States while upgrading our digital and physical infrastructure to better protect U.S. citizens and security, including in cyberspace.

Although this is a significant step forward, our own effort is just one facet of countering cyberthreats. Any nation’s ability to effectively prevent, detect, mitigate, and respond to threats in cyberspace depends in part on the capacity, cooperation, and resilience of global partners, the private sector, civil society, and the public. Global challenges require global solutions, and we are eager to continue to build on our partnerships to advance these solutions.

One of the key areas where we want to continue working closely with partners is on stability in cyberspace. For more than a decade, the United States has worked with partners and adversaries alike to build consensus on what constitutes responsible state behavior in cyberspace. Through several consensus UN resolutions, all UN member states have affirmed that international law applies in cyberspace, and that states should be further guided by a set of non-binding, voluntary norms of responsible state behavior in cyberspace. All UN member states recognize the important role of capacity-building and confidence-building measures to improve international cyber stability. We have appreciated Nigeria’s valuable engagement in these important discussions.

We have been pleased to have Nigerian participation in a range of cyber-related trainings and workshops that the United States has conducted or sponsored in recent years. We have collectively benefitted from our Nigerian colleagues’ collaboration on courses that have covered advanced cyber incident handling and topics relevant for the framework of responsible state behavior in cyberspace.

To safeguard our infrastructure, essential services, public safety, consumer protection and privacy, and economic prosperity, we all need to ensure we can prevent, detect, and respond to cybersecurity incidents, as well as hold criminals and countries responsible for any malicious cyber activity they perpetrate.

A key aspect of safeguarding the security of our digital technologies is ensuring that countries and citizens can trust the equipment and software they are using. This is especially true in guaranteeing that new 5G technology and infrastructure will not introduce risks that threaten national security, personal privacy, or human rights. This is a particularly timely issue for Nigeria, as Nigeria prepares for next week’s 5G spectrum auction and looks to roll out Nigeria’s 5G networks after the new year.

The United States is committed to promoting a vibrant digital economy worldwide that enables all citizens to benefit from the promise of secure 5G and future-generation wireless networks. We believe it is essential that governments, telecom operators, and network users prioritize security when building out their 5G networks. National measures must be crafted to mitigate significant security risks from high-risk suppliers, regardless of national origin, by precluding such suppliers from providing equipment, software, and services to 5G network infrastructure. Allowing untrusted telecommunications suppliers to participate in or control any part of a 5G network creates unacceptable risks to national security, critical infrastructure, privacy, and respect for human rights.

The United States is working with our allies and partners to support a vibrant and diverse supply chain of trustworthy telecommunications equipment and services. There are exciting developments underway, including steps to open up closed, proprietary hardware and software networks where operators depend on a single equipment provider.

The industry-led global movement towards open, interoperable approaches known as “Open Radio Access Networks” (“Open RAN”) aims to counteract “vendor lock-in,” thereby enhancing and promoting market competition while lowering costs and improving security. Diverse, interoperable communications hardware and software systems offer significant opportunities for countries like Nigeria to augment their cybersecurity while growing their local digital ecosystems and technology production. In June this year, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency awarded a grant to Nigerian company Hotspot Network Limited to fund a feasibility study to expand rural connectivity. The project will deploy cutting-edge Open RAN technology from the United States to provide internet access to millions of Nigerians in rural areas.

Open RAN firms frequently assemble equipment in developing countries and use local labor to install and manage equipment. These opportunities offer new horizons for Nigeria to boost local content in the digital technology space, driving local demand for data centers and cloud computing and providing local operators better opportunities to control the security of their networks.

Principles of digital security, trusted 5G infrastructure, vendor diversity, open, inclusive, competitive networks, and market-based standards are high priorities for the United States domestically and as we engage with our partners abroad, particularly with regional leaders and economic heavyweights like Nigeria.

Ensuring a policy, institutional, organizational, and infrastructural ecosystem that supports the effective mitigation of and response to cybersecurity threats will enable Nigeria to seize the opportunities to best protect its citizens, boost global efforts to combat cybercrime, stay on the cutting edge of digital security, and promote local production and capacity building.

As Nigeria looks toward a future of greater economic diversification, growth, and inclusion, the United States will continue to partner with Nigeria to further catalyze this country’s entrepreneurial, innovative spirit, harness its significant market size, and help realize the potential of its young and creative population.

Thank you for inviting me to join you today for this important discussion.