Cyber Risks Surge with the Growth in the Economic Value of the Internet

By Lucius Lobo, Chief Information Security Officer, Tech Mahindra

In the last twenty-five years the world witnessed an explosive digital growth that powered the era of globalization and drew new social contexts born from the indulgent use of social media. Today, the world is radically different. Consumerism is being driven by a company’s ability to mine that large amounts of data that they collect each minute. Social media firms like Facebook have more subscribers than most countries have citizens, there are as many mobile phones as there are humans, large sites such as GOOGLE or AMAZON have large quantities of data on human behavior, and the Internet has reached every corner of the globe.

Cybersecurity is the essential ingredient in this heady mix of globalization and consumerization. The business use of what essentially was a data network, has driven up its economic and political value. This being given, for organization wanting to do business on the Internet the new realignment have brought in four types of Cyber Risks driven by geo politics, identity, cybercrime and digital disruption

Rise of Geo Politics for the control of the Internet

It is no secret that most countries vie for dominance over the Internet. They do it in many ways, from attempting to control the underlying mechanism such as domain registries that power the Internet, to the establishment of cyber armies to launch strikes or conduct espionage activity on both rival and friendly countries. In the cyber-world the distinction between military and civilian targets is blurred and more so the extent of the attack can be varied enough to keep the intrusion below the grade needed for a military conflict. With Stuxnet, it became apparent that attacks on critical infrastructure targets were a reality and with the release of Wannacry a global ransomware attack that purportedly used tools leaked from one of these cyber armies to bring down the healthcare system in Britain aptly demonstrated that disruptive potential of cyber weapons. Wannacry demonstrated that in cyberspace one did not have to be a big country to develop potent weapons that could disrupt global economies. Cyber-attacks were also used for new objectives such as the alleged Russian interference in the American presidential elections.

The impact of these trends influence not only the development of global policy discussions on how to ensure that no country has dominating control over Internet and the type of response that countries are entitled too when attacked by cyber weapons. It also imposes stringent requirements for building up military grade cyber security defenses within critical national infrastructure companies in sectors like power, banking, telecom, defense and health and their supply chain.

Rise of cyber crime

It is commonly said that the cybercrime industry runs into billions of dollars. It has various facets from unsophisticated email and social media scams targeted as netizens, to the more sophisticated attacks that target large personal data stores of companies like Equifax.

 Every data element has a price on the underground market and mitigating a breach entails huge spends in identity protection, replacement of credit cards and penalties. Cyber criminals more often than not get off scot free because of jurisdiction issues and lack of cooperation between global law enforcement agencies. In some countries, cyber criminals are encouraged and protected for future use as an agent of the state provided they do not attack in-country targets. There are darker and sinister threats where cyber-criminal gangs indulge in pedophilic activity, black mail, terrorism and the sales of counterfeit medicines and drugs. These gangs exist unseen to the normal Internet user in the corners of the Internet called the Darknet or deep web. As long as these actors can safely operate below radar of law enforcement they will continue to thrive and grow. Most of these actors do not operate individually but as an entire undergoing economy from malware creator to botnet operator to underground marketplace operators for sales of stolen information to fraudsters who use these for their scams. With the abundance of online services and mobile apps, cybercrime has a fertile environment to grow.

Rise of Identity

Individual identity assertion by netizens are on a rise. If we see the recent trend in the election of governments, we see that governments which promised development over a right or left philosophy have won. People want an enabling framework for them to work and live. We see this translate into a strong sense for the need for privacy. The rise of data protection legislation like the EU GDPR with fines upwards of 20 million euro or 4 % of the global turnover are indications of the extent toward which governments are enabling protection for their citizens. There are two key factors driving this trend the first is the fear of state surveillance which gained prominence with the Snowden disclosures and the other is the mining of user actions by large search engines and social media firms for targeted advertisement.

Rise of the Digital age

There are real fears on how the rise of artificial intelligence will impact jobs. It is evident that we are in an overlap between the last phase of the industrial revolution and the first phase of the digital age where digital things powered by cognitive technologies will enter our homes and our bodies. The essential question on how security and privacy is built in when we use these devices and more so to keep us safe from physical harm remains unanswered. The other concerning factor is the birth of digital natives, who prefer screen time to face time. According to neuroscientists, this behavior is changing the way individuals responds to one another and may result in the rise of new global culture. The future for our youngsters will be vastly different and so will the threats that emerge from this changed behavior

The rate of digital change is like a fast wave, which we can only ride but cannot stop or slow. As we navigate the wave we need to ensure that we become adept riders ensuring the security of our companies, nation and children. For every problem a solution will eventually emerge that will make the young digital world secure and safe but as that happens the journey will be peppered with risks.

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