Metaverse adoption and the implication for national security

Metaverse adoption and the implication for national security

With the widespread adoption of the metaverse, the implications for national security are profound. Ali Ayoub, Security and Government Relations Expert, believes the UAE can unlock them before most.

Recently, the Dubai Future Foundation (DFF), in partnership with PwC, released a comprehensive report on the outcomes of the inaugural Dubai Metaverse Assembly. A statement made by H. E.Khalfan Belhoul, the CEO of DFF, at this landmark event significantly elevated my interest in the UAE’s metaverse efforts: “The biggest risk will be not taking the risk.”

It is an emphatic statement because it rationalises the nation’s sweeping reforms and initiatives related to Web 3.0 and its critical component, the metaverse. At a time when the metaverse accompanies piqued consumer interest and scepticism in equal measure, Belhoul’s words provide food for thought. The purported “risk”, the CEO says, pales in comparison to the potential rewards. Consequently, the UAE has undertaken broad-based efforts to gain a competitive edge in metaverse adoption, as evident from the launch of the Dubai Metaverse Strategy, which is expected to add $4billion to the GDP annually and create40,000 jobs by 2030. The said ‘value creation’ transcends economic sectors, with robust use cases being pursued already. The less-explored application, I believe, is in national security, where the metaverse can work wonders.

Security in the metaverse: A promise

Etymologically, the promise of the metaverse is undeniable: ‘Meta’, which with the widespread adoption of the metaverse, the implications for national security are profound. Ali Ayoub, Security and Government Relations Expert, believes the UAE can unlock them before most means ‘beyond’ or ‘transcending’, and the ‘universe’, which encapsulates everything known to humankind. So, the transition to the metaverse can be likened to the will to transcend possibilities. At a time when a new, digital global order is shaping up, requiring nations to underpin bilateral relations, trade, national security, and the economy with innovation, the pivot to Web 3.0 — the next iteration of the internet — is a logical step. The Web3.0 integration, which entails the use of digital twins and metadata, can enhance the efficiencies of security operations.

For example, security teams can virtually visualise a city, its critical infrastructure, and its borders and leverage AI to identify loopholes and proactively correct them in the physical world. Such possibilities are not novel, as they have been explored in the likes of the Reynard Program, where researchers sought to identify virtual world behaviours that exhibitors could act out in the real world. The objective was to identify suspicious behaviours and actions in the virtual worlds, such as the metaverse, and thwart their occurrence in the real world. At the same time, there has been an onus on policymakers and innovators to ensure that such capabilities do not infringe on human rights and personal liberties. In the UAE, that priority is seemingly not lost on the leaders, who are creating frameworks and regulations to safeguard the interests of all parties. The launch of the Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (VARA) recently is a good case in point. Such policies might come off as more red tape in the short term but could translate to a metaverse with fool-proof cybersecurity in the long term.

The cybersecurity imperative in Web 3.0

In any innovation, the early iterations tend to accompany loopholes and challenges, which bad actors and cybercriminals try to capitalise on. So, while Web 3.0 is inherently more secure by virtue of blockchain’s immutability and transparency, it is not fool proof.

In this nascent stage of development, metaverse applications merit effective cybersecurity methods. For starters, people must gain awareness of the potential challenges they could encounter in Web 3.0applications. Innovators, for their part, must get acquainted with advanced threats while deploying best practices such as zero-trust network access and AI-driven tools that can orchestrate security operations at scale. As far as raising awareness, upskilling, and training are concerned, the metaverse offers a favourable environment. In fact, it is encouraging to learn that multiple leading public and private entities in the UAE have already made considerable headway in harnessing the immersive environments of Web 3.0 for training. Conglomerate Majid Al Futtaim has trained over 1,000 employees thus far, whereas Emirates Airlines has outlined its plans to hire 4,000 cabin crew members by mid-2023 and train them in the metaverse. Likewise, DAMAC’s D-Labs, Metapolis (the company behind the world’s first metaverse-as-a-service), and Multiverse Labs, among others, are exploring use cases in their respective sectors, developing innovative products/services, and gaining a competitive edge while contributing to the larger Web 3.0 vision of the UAE.

Yet, the probable outcome is not a public-private duopoly; it is quite the opposite, with consumers gaining more control over data, technology, and products/services. Unlike the current Web2.0, where Big Tech has the monopoly, Web 3.0 is about de-monopolisation and a level playing field. In the context of the changing global order, that equates to higher parity among nations in terms of diplomacy, military strength, and the economy. Every nation, irrespective of its history, can chart a new course for itself. So, it is easy to see why, in the words of H.E. Khalfan Belhoul, the biggest risk is not taking the risk.

Ali Ayoub is an Arabic entrepreneur and security expert. He is also the man behind the Annual World Police Summit project of Dubai Police, designing and developing its brand mark identity.