We need to move beyond seeing technology as either a miracle or a disaster and focus on building resilience, says the World Economic Forum’s Derek O’Halloran.
Digital technologies are changing our world. We tell ourselves two stories about this process – we could call them “tech utopia” and “cybergeddon”. In the first, the future is bright and wonderful, in the second technology unleashes unknown dangers and threatens culture itself. However, a more mature perspective is emerging as resilience to cyber risks is recognised as a critical enabler of economic growth.
Tech Utopia: Digital connectivity of people, objects and infrastructure is transforming industries for huge social and economic gain. These gains are being driven not only through greater efficiencies, but through completely new business and social engagement models. From the connected car to smart cities, from energy infrastructure to air travel, from cashless banking in places like Kenya to on-the-spot market prices for farmers in developing economies, we are witnessing an explosion of innovation and excitement around the potential of technology centred not solely in Silicon Valley, but across industries and individuals everywhere.
Cybergeddon: This discourse of optimism is counterbalanced by a conversation about the new risks and threats. Fears, uncertainties and doubts around technology range from the speculative to the profoundly disturbing. We do not know if the Internet is changing our brains, but we do know that vast portions of our critical physical infrastructure networks (oil, gas, electricity, water, trains) are controlled remotely and that financial markets – “money” by any definition – is almost entirely digital. We would also be surprised to find a major multinational whose intellectual property is not held in some digital format, somewhere.
Unfortunately, these two stories are all too often separate and distinct. Different communities promote opportunities and try to fight the security battle. It is partly our fault as news consumers. Evangelists and doomsayers make for better stories than analysis. We like to know what sort of story we are hearing. Is this a comedy or a tragedy?
However, given the level of our dependence on information and communication technologies, and the scale of the opportunities before us, there is a considerable need to integrate the two perspectives.
Digital transformation makes the protection and resilience of our shared digital infrastructure a strategic concern for our economic and social well-being. The ability to provide a trusted environment for individuals and business to interact online is a critical enabler for innovation and growth.
Resilience provides a more useful framework for this than just security. Security implies bigger walls designed to prevent a failure. Resilience includes this, but also extends to the acceptance that there may well be a failure, so we also need to have plans for returning to normal. Whether it is in financial markets or agriculture, we know shocks will come, but we adapt to ensure continued viability.
In recognition of this, and in response to the growing threats and risks in a digitally interconnected world, over 80 companies and government bodies across 15 sectors and 25 countries have joined forces to create the World Economic Forum’s Partnering for Cyber Resilience initiative in 2012. Together, the leaders of these organizations have signed a set of principles, which demonstrate their commitment to taking an integrated, strategic approach to technology risks and opportunities, and to play their role in providing a resilient digital environment for all.
This initiative is at the forefront of the conversation around resilience to cyber risks – from being a narrow technical specialization to being a topic of core strategic concern for CEOs and government leaders worldwide. Cyber resilience is no longer an afterthought and a cost. It is an essential component of any business or national strategy that seeks to be successful and sustainable.
Author: Derek O’Halloran is Head of Information Technology Industry Team and Head of the Partnering for Cyber Resilience Initiative at the World Economic Forum.
Image: Researchers at an Anti-Virus Research Center study polymorphic decryption code REUTERS/Handout