Joining forces in the fight for cyber safety

Opinion by John Suffolk

The past 20 years has witnessed the boom of commercial internet and, as a result, the development of an interconnected and global digital network.

The past 20 years has witnessed the boom of commercial internet and, as a result, the development of an interconnected and global digital network.

This has made everything from email and social networking to telemedicine and online banking and retailing, simply part of everyday life. The internet has also provided huge opportunity for the economy, allowing smaller businesses to target international customers previously out of reach. 

With vital day-to-day activities so dependent on the internet, cyber space has become the ‘nervous system' through which society operates. Open networks connect the world, facilitate economic exchanges across regions and promote global trade. In short, information technology has become a key driver behind economic growth.

Yet, as the personal and enterprise-oriented benefits of the internet, from social networking to cloud computing, have become clear, equally clear is that real-world evils ranging from vandalism, theft and disruption to espionage and wilful destruction have gravitated to the new digital environment.

Not a day goes by that we don't hear about cyber threats. This concern is understandable, and has become more prevalent since the growth in smartphone usage.

In a world where over 87 per cent of the world's population are mobile users, cyber security is a growing challenge demanding rational and universal solutions.

As governments, enterprises and consumers have become reliant on the internet, the scale of the cyber security challenge has grown exponentially.

In addition, increasingly rich telecommunications and internet applications have become widely available and are increasingly used in business. This, coupled with the growth of cloud computing and the increasing use of app stores, means the complexity and scale of ICT-related software is rapidly expanding.

As such, malicious collection of personal data and unintended design errors all potentially cause damage to the network and its users. For example, the global growth in social networks has created major security challenges with one survey claiming that in England and Wales a Facebook crime occurs every 40 minutes, with some 12,300 cases linked to the site.

This is not an indication of the cyber security provided by the social network, but of how innocent social media technology can be misused or abused.

Simply put, as the usage of smartphones has increased, so too have the motives and methods of attacking them. Between 2004 and 2011, the prevalence of malware in smartphones increased by 600 per cent. This could seriously undermine the undoubted benefits offered by these devices.

To counteract this threat, businesses, security experts, governments and indeed all stakeholders need to ensure that trust is maintained and relationships, processes and approaches continually evolve to meet the digital challenges of the 21st century and beyond.

Cyber security is not a single country or specific company issue. All stakeholders – governments and industry alike – need to recognise that cyber security is a shared global problem requiring risk-based approaches, best practices and international cooperation to address the challenge.

Despite the continued effort of cyber criminals to find new ways of attacking businesses and consumers alike, we should not assume there is nothing that can be done to meet the cyber security challenge.

Verizon's 2012 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) affirms for the fourth year in a row that the majority of data breaches (97 per cent) could have been avoided with the implementation of simple countermeasures.

In short, there is much we can do if we show collective will, determination, openness and transparency. The technology landscape is complex, and is getting more so, given the growing role of smartphones and cloud computing and the extensive use of application stores that contain software developed around the world to differing quality and security standards.

In order to adequately address cyber security issues, the private and public sectors must align goals and responsibilities and collaborate to ensure the integrity and security of data and information systems within a risk-based framework.

Collaboration on cyber security should not be limited by geographical, political or competitive differences. While some may view it as a competitive advantage, the reality is the impact of not collaborating provides the opportunity to exploit the weak links in the global cyber security chain. There are multiple forums available for collaboration, yet even these are the equivalent of loose cooperation and do not fulfil a true comprehensive united front.

In this context governments must take the lead to establish united and integrated governance to drive forward comprehensive and collaborative approaches to cyber security.

With governments leading the charge and the security industry supporting, we can form a united front against cyber crime and ensure we are one step ahead, as technology continues to play a bigger role in society.  

John Suffolk is global cyber security officer at Huawei


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