Ambassador Hovenier’s Remarks at the Cyber Zero Conference

Ambassador Hovenier’s Remarks at the Cyber Zero Conference January 26, 2023  

Good morning. Thank you, Edona, for the kind introduction.

Prime Minister Kurti, Mayor Rama, distinguished guests: it’s a pleasure to be here to open the Cyber Zero conference today.

I’m encouraged to see a room full of motivated Kosovans here today, representing different backgrounds and experiences.

In the audience, we have representatives from media, civil society, the IT sector, the ethical hacking community, and government.

Our goal in supporting this conference is to help create an environment and space where you can all talk to each other, share ideas and best practices, and develop innovative solutions to the challenges and pressing issues related to cybersecurity.

Everyone here today has shared interests.

And each one of you also brings a diverse background and skill set.

I encourage you to draw on your different strengths and experiences and use this conference as an opportunity to collaborate;

To utilize your talents to make contributions that bolster Kosovo’s security;

To work together to advance Kosovo’s democracy and economic opportunities, and;

To reaffirm through your actions and conversations the importance of freedom of expression, transparency, and the free flow of information.

The U.S. helped sponsor this conference because we are committed to supporting independent media as well as civil society, and;

Because we hold freedom of speech and freedom of expression as fundamental rights, necessary to advance democracy, the rule of law, and economic prosperity.

We are committed to supporting Kosovo in taking advantage of its greatest resource – its youth – and by including their expertise in cyber issues. I know that many here identify as “ethical hackers.”

By working to look for vulnerabilities among media institutions, you are helping identify potential security breaches and assisting these organizations to shore up their defenses so that this information flow remains secure.

We convened this conference for the first time two years ago because we saw that malicious actors were targeting journalists, media entities, and civil society with increasingly frequent cyberattacks.

Whether these actors sought to disrupt the media’s editorial independence or to profit financially, in some cases, they were able to access privileged information, identify sources, and, in so doing, discredit reporters’ credibility.

In the first year of the initiative, I was impressed to learn that participants identified over 180 vulnerabilities in 10 media organizations.

I’m pleased that the scope of this effort has expanded this year to include civil society as well as media entities – and that you’ve doubled the number of participants.

Since September, you have found an additional 57 vulnerabilities, the majority of which were critical and could be exploited to censor freedom of speech.

These vulnerabilities could result in data loss, unauthorized access, password exposures, and non-availability of information to the public.

I want to encourage media outlets here today to take advantage of this opportunity to reflect on where you may need to shore up your cyber defenses, and get advice and support from the technical experts.

And to you technical experts in our audience – whether you are an IT professional or an “ethical hacker” – thank you for the expertise you bring and for applying your knowledge to an admirable goal.

On behalf of the U.S. Embassy, it is our sincere hope that today’s conference will lead to even more collaboration between the IT, media, and civil society sectors.

We see this energy, collaboration, and willingness to work together and innovate as a particular strength and value set that our two societies share.

We believe that by harnessing our diversity and recognizing the value our different experiences bring, we are a stronger community and society.

I am certain that your collaboration and cross training will contribute to Kosovo’s safety and security, as well as its economic success.

I look forward to hearing your success stories as you “hack” to protect Kosovo’s independent journalists and build shared knowledge in this critical sphere of modern life.

Thank you.