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Investing in Cyber Defense is Essential for Brazil’s Future

Brazilian Air Force General talks to Diálogo during SOUTHDEC 2017.
Marcos Ommati/Diálogo | 12 October 2017

Brazilian Air Force Major General Ricardo Reis Tavares discussed some of the actions taken by the Brazilian Armed Forces to combat cyberthreats. (Photo: Marcos Ommati, Diálogo)

Brazilian Air Force Major General Reis Tavares, the deputy director of International Affairs at the Brazilian Ministry of Defense, was Brazil’s representative at the 2017 South American Defense Conference (SOUTHDEC). The general moderated a panel discussion on cyberattacks. Among other important information, he said that in the last two years there has been an increase of more than 270 percent in cyberattacks on corporate and government websites. To discuss this and other matters, Diálogo spoke with Maj. Gen. Reis during the event, held in the Peruvian capital of Lima from August 22nd to 24th.

Diálogo: During the panel discussion, you talked a lot about the compartmentalization of information, saying that it would be essential for tackling the issue of cyberattacks. What is missing for this information sharing to actually occur?

Major General Reis Tavares, the deputy director of International Affairs at the Brazilian Ministry of Defense: What’s happening is that there is an increasing need to do this. So this conference is now a mechanism of goodwill, good faith, by the countries to identify those needs. It’s not that anything is missing but we have to complement our intentions. The next step, in the bilateral sense, is for each country to state its needs and share that information. And how will we share? In what way? Only through mutual trust. Every country has its own mechanism for bilateral meetings. That’s why we have to exchange and share experiences, training, courses, technical visits, and since we’re going to go operational with cyber specialists, surely they’ll find the most suitable paths for the information to arrive at the right time in order to counter an on-scene threat inside the nation’s critical infrastructure.

Diálogo: Do you feel that Brazil has improved its capabilities in this regard after having hosted the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016?

Maj. Gen. Reis: Certainly, the country’s [readiness] level has jumped by at least one level from where it was before. Without making comparisons, I believe Brazil has learned a lot and reformulated its own doctrine in terms of cyberdefense, and logically, it has established protocols for large-scale world events such as the Olympics, for example. There have been a lot of lessons learned in terms of information sharing. Therefore, I believe that future specialist forums will be a great tool for each nation in the region to exchange information and experiences. During today’s panel, we identified how Argentina, the United States, and Uruguay have established their own models, adapting them to the laws of their nations. So, of course, a process, a point identified in the other nation, can be useful to Brazil, and vice versa. But Brazil certainly grew a lot and learned a lot from the Olympic Games.

Diálogo: The Brazilian government has announced a 40 percent budget cut that mainly affects the Armed Forces. How do you balance the books and keep investing in what many consider to be the next war, meaning cyber warfare?

Maj. Gen. Reis: As a new military capacity, cyber warfare has to be included in our Armed Forces budget, and it has also been placed within the regulatory framework for Brazil’s development in the field of cybernetics. Back in 2012, we saw that the strategic defense systems project was established precisely through a specific budgetary action for that kind of investment because we don’t see it as an expense. Because it’s an investment in cyber defense, which is exactly what will protect us from the damage that might be caused by future threats and from intended attacks by terrorists, hackers, or criminals. A survey done by Latin American banks showed $90 billion in damages in one year alone. It’s a big deal. So it’s an investment to protect us, because it fits neatly within the structure of our defense systems, our cyber defense, and supports them. And the military is there to help combat the threat, which can cause damage.

Diálogo: Sir, how do you assess the Brazilian Air Force’s participation in Amazon operations, mainly in support of the Brazilian Army and Federal Police?

Maj. Gen. Reis: The Armed Forces’ presence in the Amazon is essential. It’s the presence of the Brazilian government and the Armed Forces as a government institution on our borders, with our border platoons and our battalions at the Amazon Military Command, and in the naval districts. And the air wings are there too, positioned in various regions of the Amazon. And that is how we fulfill our mission to defend our sovereignty: it’s the presence of the government. It’s a social good that Brazil is performing, integrating that region and its communities, whether indigenous or not, raising the level of health, schooling, and education of those people. This means that the communities there don’t live without the Armed Forces. So it’s really quite important.

Diálogo: How was Brazil, a developing nation, able to bring to market what appears to be a universally acclaimed aircraft, the Super Tucano (A-29)? Are there future projects?

Maj. Gen. Reis: The Armed Forces are still idealists. We’re idealists and patriots. We think about the Brazilian government and we invest in it. Back in 1968, the Air Force, through Embraer [the manufacturer of the Super Tucano], which was a state-owned company, was working on manufacturing a Bandeirantes turboprop plane. In those days there was only the Concorde. The gap between both planes was huge. But the Air Force approved the project, invested in the project, and through the knowledge acquired, today our planes aren’t any different from others around the world. They don’t fall short. In the area of aircraft — of aviation knowledge and engineering — Embraer’s aircraft are at the same level as everyone else. Getting back to the Super Tucano, it was made possible because we believe in our product, we believe in our investment, and we know that it’s truly a great plane for the mission for which it was conceived. We receive only praise from the countries that have acquired the product. So really it’s an investment in the Armed Forces, and especially in the Air Force.

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