Governments, businesses, and citizens around the world face an ever-increasing risk from cyberthreats. Recently, the WannaCry ransomware attack wreaked global havoc, affecting an estimated 200,000 organizations across 150 countries. Such attacks — which work by encrypting data until an organization or individual pays a ransom — are becoming more common, despite the best efforts of software companies, information security specialists, and government and law enforcement agencies to prevent them.
A recent Accenture survey of 2,000 cross-industry security executives revealed that roughly one in three targeted breach attempts are successful. Although the public sector shoulders the brunt of cybercrime activity — 50 times more attacks were launched against government in 2016 than any other industry — everyone, from corporate executives to consumers, has a role to play in preventing future attacks. Here are some ways to take action.
Understand the risks: Email has become one of the most common mechanisms by which security threats are delivered to unsuspecting recipients, in government, industry, and the general public. These threats, which often appear in the form of malicious attachments or links to harmful websites, are becoming increasingly sophisticated, so much so that even practiced security experts are now challenged to identify harmful content.
An Accenture survey of 5,400 citizens across six countries (the US, UK, Australia, Singapore, France, and Germany) found that 61% of respondents are concerned about identity theft and phishing when using digital services, and for 49%, a fear of financial-related fraud is causing them to limit their use of online services.
To reduce the number of people falling prey to such cybercrimes, government must help build user awareness, especially among more vulnerable populations. At the same time, increased efforts by Internet service providers to identify malicious payloads and links in email traffic will help lower the number of successful cyber attacks. For employers, this means training employees to recognize digital dangers at work and providing guidance on how to respond if an employee believes he or she is a victim. As a key part of this, employers should conduct regular checks to assess both employee adoption of and adherence to data security guidelines and policies. Software companies must also examine their role in driving threat awareness among customers, working in tandem with government and other industry stakeholders.
Adopt new security technologies and processes: Many PC users rely on outdated operating systems or fail to install updated antivirus software and security patches. Even those with up-to-date systems often ignore security alerts. While adopting a proactive approach will always be a key challenge within the general public, that can easily be addressed within the workplace. Employers must reinforce security behaviors for employees while enhancing existing security protocols to help employees cope with increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks. For example, strengthening email controls and passwords, and utilizing stronger spam filters can prevent malicious correspondence from reaching employees.
New cloud technologies can also improve security, including the use of cloud-based email analytics solutions to identify and quarantine known threats. Artificial intelligence (AI) and biometrics must also play a part. AI can dramatically increase security in IT environments by using behavioral profiling to detect anomalies that may indicate a threat.
Recently, there has been a dramatic upswing in research and development around how AI, machine learning, and predictive and behavioral analytics can be used to confront evolving threats. Citizens support these changes; recent research from Accenture found that two-thirds of US citizens (66%) said they would be willing to sacrifice convenience for increased data security, and nearly half (47%) support the use of biometric technologies to verify identity and enable secure access to services.
Secure IoT devices: While most citizens (53%) view Internet of Things technologies as a positive development in daily life, there are significant security considerations. First, when deploying IoT technologies, users must understand and prepare for associated security risks. Second, as the IoT (and the industrial IoT) becomes an integral part of critical national infrastructure, governments must develop defense and security measures to address threats. From a commercial perspective, device manufacturers must build security into their products, applications, and solutions to provide added protection and resilience.
Utilize citizen support: Some government agencies and private companies have begun to leverage citizen support to enhance cybersecurity defenses. Accenture's survey identified a strong desire among citizens to work with government to fight cybercrime and ensure data privacy and security. More than half of respondents (58%) said they would undertake national service of some kind to support security efforts, and 49% said they are willing to work for their national defense agencies to help secure citizen data and protect critical national infrastructure.
Bug bounty programs are another innovative way to harness citizen support to protect IT systems and infrastructure. A bug bounty program refers to an arrangement in which websites and software developers recognize or compensate individuals for reporting bugs or other vulnerabilities. These programs originated with software companies but have since expanded and are now used by government agencies. During the 2016 "Hack the Pentagon" event, nearly 140 vulnerabilities were reported to the US government.
In the UK, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) recently launched its Vulnerability Co-ordination Pilot to facilitate public reporting, while both the NCSC agency in the Netherlands and the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) run similar programs. Crowdsourcing cybersecurity allows government and private-sector organizations to leverage a much wider range of expertise than any one entity alone could hope to possess.
In today's connected world, government, citizens, employees, and technology industry stakeholders must all be actively involved in preventing and fighting digital threats. Effective cybersecurity depends on all stakeholders working together to understand, prevent, and respond to these attacks. Although incidents like WannaCry will still occur, together we can help limit their impact.