In 2014, researchers from the World Economic Forum and McKinsey & Company projected that as much as $21 trillion in global economic value creation would depend on the robustness of cyber-security over five to seven years. That’s as big as the entire U.S. economy.

To discuss the future of the Internet and its risks, IT ministers from the G7 countries and the EU gathered for the first time in 20 years. The information and communications technology (ICT) summit in Takamatsu, Japan, was held against a background of major cyber-security dangers including threats to critical infrastructure and mobile devices as well as attacks that are rapidly growing in number while using new means to conceal themselves.

The summit produced a joint statement supporting the open flow of information across borders and highlighting the need to bring the unconnected people of the world – over 4 billion people – into the online community.

Over half the world's population are not yet online
Image: World Economic Forum's Internet For All report. Data sources include World Bank, ITU, UNESCO and the World Wide Web Foundation

This is not an issue for government alone. At a parallel event, executives from the likes of Facebook, Nokia and Qualcomm joined the government officials and academics in a broad discussion about fostering growth through ICT, cyber-security and connectivity. Participants agreed that only a multistakeholder approach would work, while outlining the governing principles of the Internet as a network that is global, secure, open, and resilient. They also addressed the need for the G7 to take a leadership role on these issues, particularly on ICT growth and security, while encouraging and not stifling innovation.

An antivirus update is not enough

While computers, mobile devices and social media have become an increasingly important part of our everyday lives, we tend to think of digital risk management as something that can be accomplished with an antivirus update. The fact is, it’s a multifaceted, everyday discipline that requires teamwork to succeed.

G7 leaders, meeting this month in Japan’s Ise, must collaborate with stakeholders in business, academia and civil society to promote the secure expansion of ICT. It can enhance efficiency and productivity, as well as add value and real revenue growth – not only in developed countries but developing ones as well. The Internet should be considered fundamental to economic development like roads, water and electricity; this is something that funding and aid agencies should focus on more.

One of the best ways for global leaders to engage the broader community on issues of Internet governance is the aptly named Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Marking its 10th anniversary this year, this open forum under the aegis of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs gives developing countries the same opportunities as developed countries to engage in debate on Internet governance. It has brought together public and private-sector stakeholders in annual workshops to discuss “a common understanding of how to maximize Internet opportunities and address risks and challenges that arise.”

Representing most of the richest economies in the world, the G7 can learn from the IGF’s model by setting standards for the growth and security of the Internet in collaboration with all players. Teamwork is the best way to transform the world via ICT

“Stop playing whack-a-mole”

Aside from collaboration, we need a change in mindset. At the Takamatsu conference, I was particularly impressed when I heard one of my favorite security mantras now being spoken by a majority, including an official from Japanese telecom giant NTT. Cyber-security is not an information technology issue, he said, it’s a management issue. That’s a vital message that should resound not only in rarefied policymaker summits like the G7 leaders’ powwow, but in corporate boardrooms, schools and households. Compartmentalizing the risks associated with online activity is all too common.

We also have to stop playing whack-a-mole when it comes to security. If we don’t adopt a comprehensive approach from the ground up to cyber-security, including policies such as secure-by-design software engineering, we will forever be playing catch-up with the bad guys.

One way to transcend this defensive mindset is to focus on the positive aspects of cyber-security as an enabler of ICT. For instance, developing countries can save mountains of money in terms of technology investments by taking advantage of the latest ICT and computer security innovations. An often-cited example is how many communities in Africa skipped traditional copper-wire telephony and went straight to mobile. Meanwhile, it’s worth remembering that ICT discussions can easily scale down from efforts made at a national or multinational level down to businesses and organizations.

As holder of the G7 presidency this year, Japan has a responsibility to lead the way in ICT. It must show its peers not only how its uniquely ageing society can benefit from and innovate ICT and security but also how this stakeholder group can be served. After all, ICT has transformed our societies and boosted productivity to unheard-of levels. We must continue to protect and develop this precious resource for future generations.