Global Cyber Resilience the Need of the Hour

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

March 23, 2021

The world is more integrated now than ever before. Infinite streams of data travel between cities, countries and continents. With closer trade and business relations and financial flows between economies, critical business information is also travelling from one part of the world to another.

These elaborate networks are fueled by technology, which is now the backbone of the global economic and financial system. More importantly, the deep levels of integration in the global economy, with businesses of all kinds having interests in several economies simultaneously, and with billions of dollars of capital flowing between countries in investment, technology has become entrenched.

As this has happened, one of the key challenges that has emerged is our susceptibility to cyberattacks. Over the past few years, there have increasing instances of data breaches and information theft, affecting even global tech flagships like Facebook. And it isn’t just the theft of information alone – cyberattacks today have the potential to build down entire power networks or urban transport systems.

In this context, emerging technologies have provided growth opportunities by allowing increased efficiency, connectivity and productivity—contributing to the growth of businesses and enabling humans to realise their full potential. But they’ve also made us more vulnerable and left us exposed to cyberattacks.

This is a global problem that demands a collaborative solution. The US has a vital role to play in bringing world leaders on board a common platform to address this growing menace. This was one of the subjects discussed at the recently concluded Horasis Extraordinary Meeting on the United States of America. The online event saw several parallel sessions with leaders from the fields of business, government, media and academia discussing and deliberating these and other threats, and the global response to them.

The Impacts of Cyberattacks

The nature of cyberattacks is evolving and hackers are increasingly upping the ante with novel approaches. And their devious schemes are only growing more damaging now more than ever as individuals, businesses and governments are actively going digital.

Just as technology uptake is innate to evolution, so too is the need to build and fortify defense mechanisms. Until recently, national defense typically brought to mind the army, navy or the air force. But in what is becoming increasingly clear, dedicated cyber defense teams are a pressing need. Again, this is not only from a government standpoint but one that must be considered by large enterprises, small businesses and even individuals.

Cyberattacks have drastically transformed – from a nondescript-looking email that asked its user to click on a link. Hackers too have grown exponentially in their tech knowhow and are even using social engineering to understand finer details about their target. A random phone call—with the caller identifying as perhaps calling from a bank or utility company—could seek out personal details. And which is why banks keep issuing notices to not reveal any confidential information over a phone call, even if it is a bank official requesting it.

Security breaches will only increase going forward. The latest Internet security report from WatchGuard Technologies detected a two-year high in network attacks on companies in Q3 2020. “While there’s no such thing as ‘the new normal’ when it comes to security, businesses can be sure that increasing protection for both the endpoint and the network will be a priority in 2021 and beyond,” according to Corey Nachreiner, chief technology officer at WatchGuard.

Notable Trends in 2020

It is, however, not as if tech adoption is shrouded in gloom. A recent report by the Identity Theft Resource Center stated that data breaches in 2020 were down by 19% as compared to 2019. Meanwhile, individuals impacted by these breaches were down by 66%.

Supply chain companies, meanwhile, had to bear the brunt of an increased frequency in cyberattacks. This was the most targeted sector as most of these companies are comparatively smaller organizations lacking dedicated cybersecurity infrastructure. However, their data servers are potential ‘gold mines’ because they contain vital information about the numerous companies they work with.

Hackers also exploited the US’ unemployment benefits scheme. They used stolen identities to apply for benefits. The U.S. Department of Labor valued the total identity-related fraud at over $26billion. And this was just in 2020. With the soon-to-be disbursed stimulus checks, it is imperative for government agencies to maintain higher vigilance.

A Need to Collaborate

Cyberattack victims are clearly not individuals alone. They could very well affect governments that otherwise have a seemingly large defense arsenal. It is, therefore, important for policy makers to acknowledge cyber security oversights. To ensure a more effective counter to the challenges at hand, governments could also encourage investment and participation from private players.

A global crisis like COVID-19 has illustrated the importance of global cooperation and involvement. In a similar manner, effectively countering the growing cyber threats requires a willingness among countries to work together. Cyber threats are not bound by geographic borders, and any amount of national planning or risk mitigation strategies without some degree of cooperation with other countries will leave us exposed to potential cyber incidents.

Photo caption: Cyberattacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated and could bring down entire urban transport systems.