Brexit security implications: Major, and only starting to unfold

The Brexit shock continues to reverberate throughout the global economic and policy worlds. Despite protests against the referendum’s results being cancelled due to concerns of violence, hundreds of protesters demonstrated outside the House of Parliament earlier this week.

Alongside financial and political uncertainty, the rising discontent over Brexit will also spill over into the digital domain, with numerous important implications for the security industry over the next few days, months and years.

Will Brexit make the UK more or less safe?

The key question for many security professionals is whether the Brexit will make the UK more or less safe when it comes to cybersecurity. One poll administered prior to the vote found that most security professionals believed there would not be any major cybersecurity implications, noting that Britain may simply pursue a national implementation of EU policies. However, another poll of security professionals offered different conclusions, with most respondents believing that a Brexit would weaken cybersecurity because of additional bureaucratic hurdles to information sharing with the EU, as well limited cross-national collaboration in fighting cyber criminals. There is also concern about the possibility of a brain drain – in-demand security talent pool fleeing the UK – which could increasingly impact security and data protection.

The UK could decide to implement modified versions of EU policies, such as the General Data Protection Regulation that aims to facilitate commerce through the Digital Single Market while providing enhanced digital privacy. However, the vote in favor of the Brexit was a vote in favor of greater national control over matters such as the economy and immigration.

Push for digital sovereignty

As has historically been the case when more isolationist policies defeat internationalist ones, these policies are not single issue, but address the larger need for national control over all aspects of life. Arguably, this same desire will bleed into the digital arena, with a push for digital sovereignty and greater national control over the Internet. Though it’s still too early to tell, the Brexit may further the global Balkanization of the Internet if the UK pursues its own path in the digital domain.

British FinTech uncertain about the future

In addition to the data protection and privacy policies, digital trade and finance will also be impacted, with the British FinTech community getting hit especially hard. The FinTech community benefits from London remaining the hub of the financial world. With Bitcoin surging and the pound dropping, FinTech is rightfully concerned about the Brexit.

In addition to missing out on the impending EU Digital Single Market, FinTech companies will also no longer benefit from their passport to the European Economic Area, likely resulting in UK-based companies fleeing to EU countries. In fact, many companies have already delayed expansion into the UK or have signaled a potential shift to continental Europe. The UK may well adapt, but London’s role as the financial hub is now threatened thanks to the Brexit, the rise of digital currencies, and the EU’s move toward greater digital integration.

Bots wreaking havoc

Finally, while most in security associate bots with malware, there are initial signs that bots attempted to influence voting behavior. Bot traffic comprises 60% of all online traffic, and an army of social media bots was found to have played a key role for both the leave and remain camps. Bots have also continued to wreak havoc after the referendum.

Inconsistencies have surfaced on the site, showing signs of automated signatures on a petition calling for a second referendum the weekend following the vote. Moreover, as elections increasingly see a spike in phishing scams, it would not be surprising to see a rise in phishing campaigns targeting both those in favor of and those opposed to the Brexit.

The future

With the Brexit now a reality, the UK will find limitations in worker mobility, sharing threat intelligence, and accessing the evolving Digital Single Market, while other forms of digital collaboration and regulations could encounter a growing patchwork of hurdles.

The pendulum historically tends to swing between extremes of isolation and integration, before eventually settling on greater integration. While the Brexit vote may not have registered on the radar of many in the security community, time will show that this was an extremely impactful vote with security implications that need continued attention as the fallout unfolds over months and years to come.

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