A new study by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) has ranked countries on a spectrum of their cyber capabilities, looking at everything from their digital economies to their intelligence and security functions. The study found that only the U.S. ranked as a "top tier" cyber power while China, Russia, the UK, Australia, Canada, France, and Israel were in the second tier. India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, North Korea, Iran, and Vietnam were in the third tier.
"This report is intended to assist national decision-making, for example by indicating the cyber capabilities that make the greatest difference to national power. Such information can help governments and major corporations when calculating strategic risk and deciding on strategic investment," wrote the researchers.
The researchers assessed each country’s capabilities in seven categories: strategy and doctrine, governance, command and control, core cyber-intelligence capability, cyber empowerment and dependence, cyber security and resilience, global leadership in cyberspace affairs, and offensive cyber capability.
The report highlights how dominance in cyberspace has been a strategic goal of the U.S. since the mid-1990s, making it the only country with a heavy global footprint in both civil and military uses of cyberspace. Furthermore, in response to perceived threats by China and Russia, the country has benefited from taking an urgent approach to extending its capabilities for cyber operations.
The U.S. has also been more efficient than any other country in defending its critical national infrastructure in cyberspace while acknowledging that major weaknesses remain. In response to this difficulty, the country has for more than two decades mobilized the global community to develop common security principles in cyberspace.
One surprising element to come out of the study was that China was far behind its cyber capabilities goals. The IISS revealed that China's analysis of cyber intelligence was "less mature" than that of the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. According to the report, this was mainly attributed to the fact that it has poor security and weak intelligence analysis.
So why do so many in the global community assume that China is further ahead in this specific area?
Greg Austin, an expert in cyber, space, and future conflict at the IISS, told the Financial Times that China’s cyber ability can be overstated due to legitimate gains the country made in AI and other cyber abilities. However, this does not translate to all cyber capabilities." On every measure, the development of skills for cyber security in China is in a worse position than it is in many other countries," he said.