Some Implications of the Brexit on the Digital Domain

The policy world will spend the day shocked that the Brexiteers defeated the Remainers by 52-48%, leading Prime Minister David Cameron to promise to resign this Fall. The majority of security professionals likely didn’t follow the ebbs and flows of the debate with the same fervor they give to Game of Thrones. With much of the media discussion appropriately focused on the economic and financial implications, there has not been much analysis of the implications for the digital domain. With the Brexit now a reality, it warrants a renewed focus by the security community as the consequences of the Brexit vote play out over the next few days, months and years.


For the most part, the security industry has focused on whether or not a Brexit would make the UK safer (or less safe) with regard to cybersecurity. A poll administered to security professionals claimed that that there likely would not be cybersecurity implications, noting that Britain may simply pursue a national implementation of EU policies. A different poll of security professionals disagreed, concluding that a Brexit would weaken cybersecurity because there would be additional hurdles and, likely, weakened information sharing with the EU. Clearly, it is too early to tell, but a Brexit could continue the devolution toward the Balkanization of the Internet. The UK may opt to implement its own version of EU policies, such as the General Data Protection Regulation, which aims to facilitate commerce through a single 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 its economy. There is reason to believe this same desire will also bleed into the digital arena, with a push for digital sovereignty and greater national control over the Internet. 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. A Brexit may further augment the Balkanization of the Internet if the UK pursues its own sovereign path in the digital domain. 


The tech world largely sided with the Remainers, due to the ease of access to markets as well as a larger talent pool.  This sentiment was especially strong among the Fintech community, who wants London to remain the well-established hub of the financial world. With Bitcoin surging and the pound dropping, Fintech’s concerns about a Brexit are well-founded. With the EU push for a “Digital Single Market”, Fintech companies no longer will benefit from their passport to the European Economic Area, likely resulting in UK-based companies moving to EU countries. The UK will adapt, but London’s role as the financial hub is now increasingly threatened thanks to the Brexit, coupled with the rise in digital currencies, and the EU’s move toward greater digital integration within member-states. 


Finally, while most people in security associate bots with malware, there are initials signs that ‘bots’ attempted to influence voting behavior. Bot traffic comprises 60% of all online traffic, with social media bots found for both the Brexit and remain camps.  Focusing on Twitter traffic for Brexit, remain and neutral hashtags, the most active 1% of contributors made up 30% of the content. As undecided voters generally don’t make up their minds until the last 24-48 hours, these social media bots can potentially influence those last-minute decisions. Moreover, as elections increasingly see a spike in phishing scams, it would be surprising if the same did not occur in the lead up to yesterday’s vote.


With the Brexit now a reality, UK workers will encounter more limitations to their mobility, and UK’s security industry will encounter a rising patchwork of hurdles to sharing threat intelligence and other forms of digital collaboration and regulations. And for those who still fail to see the relevance of the Brexit, even Game of Thrones is impacted, as the show receives EU subsidies while filming from Northern Ireland. Winter may come in a different location next season. That said, the pendulum historically tends to swing between extremes of isolation and integration, progressing eventually toward greater integration. While the Brexit vote may not have registered on many in the community’s radar, it is a very impactful vote that has unknowable security implications.


"Brexit" Over UK Flag