We Digitized Our Lives, We Just Forgot to Secure Them

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We are a connected, digital society that depends heavily on networks, databases and other digital systems to operate. Almost every aspect of our lives, from the most basic tasks at the workplace to our personal communication and social interactions, to the way we shop and the tools we use to study and learn, depends on some form of electronic interaction or data exchange. These digital environments are practical, useful and fast, but in our excitement to use, leverage and widely deploy them, we have forgotten to secure them.

The spree continues

Last year, the national fast food restaurant chain, Arby’s, acknowledged that malware installed on payment systems inside specific corporate stores might have compromised more than 355,000 credit and debit card numbers. A few months later, personal information and the medical diagnoses of at least 7,000 patients at the Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center in New York had leaked. By the end of the summer, Kmart and Verizon had revealed malware infections and data leaks, all leading to the Equifax compromise, a breach potentially affecting up to 143 million customers. Even Uber suffered a data breach allegedly exposing personal information of 57 million users and drivers. Even companies in cybersecurity can be affected. Take Deloitte for example, a company once named by Gartner Research as the “best cybersecurity consultant in the world,” which had its email system hacked. The naive justification of all these compromises can be attributed to profit-driven “corporate irresponsibility”—companies and organizations minding their bottom lines rather than exercising care about securing their data.

Not my problem

Terms like breach, data leak, attack, hack, exploit and malware have become common in our vernacular, and they are immediately associated with malicious intent. For most individuals, cybersecurity incidents remain distant acts of socially awkward—but brilliant—teenagers or nefarious hackers in far-away countries. That’s until someone’s financial or health records become available on the Internet.

Companies on the other hand are aware of the impact of breaches, but for many, they are only identified as risks that are hedged against with the cost of actively protecting digital assets and that of inaction. For small businesses, a hacking attack may be detrimental, with 60 percent of small companies being unable to sustain more than six months after a compromise. For large organizations, cybersecurity insurance policies give a sense of safety from financial risk, yet there is no policy that could ever recover the reputational cost and loss of trust.

Cybersecurity compromises are not always the product of malicious intent and unauthorized access. Data breaches are also caused by unintentional omissions, software errors, poor maintenance of systems and software operator negligence or misplaced trust in careless third parties. In all cases and at all levels, dealing with cybersecurity incidents, whether malicious or inadvertent, will not be reduced until all stakeholders, from organizations to individuals, assume their share of responsibility.

The hunt for cybersecurity talent

The need for qualified cybersecurity staff has become a mainstay discussion. Cybersecurity professionals are expected to have specific, technical, specialized skills that match each organization’s technology mix. The result has been the springing up of an entire industry of cybersecurity certifications that existing information technology professionals flock to obtain. These are good options to meet current demand, but their value is often as short-lived as the product or technology they are based on.

Unlike other fields, specific technology skills are required in cybersecurity, but they are not sufficient to succeed. The field is highly technical and requires professionals to continuously cross the lines between computer science, information technology and mathematics. It also requires many important skills such as problem solving and critical thinking. These skills can’t be obtained by a weeklong vendor training or series or set of professional certifications. These are skills that are cultivated with formal education, enriched with technical training and further enhanced with on-the-job work experience.

For information on our cybersecurity program, click here.

 

By George Dimitoglou, D.Sc., Associate Professor of Computer Science and Director of the Center for Computer Security and Information Assurance