This is the partnership we need to fight global cybercrime

Image: Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

Derek Manky
Chief Security Strategist and Global Vice-President, Threat Intelligence, Fortinet
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  • Like the COVID-19 pandemic, cybercrime does not respect borders or ideologies - and no one organisation can fight it alone.
  • The World Economic Forum's Partnership Against Cybercrime is a forum for collaboration in the fight against global cybercrime.
  • It brings together experts from the public and private sectors, as well as from law enforcement and the legal sector.

The coronavirus does not differentiate between countries or ideologies. Many nations around the world have come together to find ways to contain and mitigate the threat it poses to our collective health, safety and prosperity. We continue to learn what works and what doesn’t from the struggles and sacrifices of those who have been hardest hit.

For those of us committed to containing and defeating the scourge of cybercrime, it is impossible not to see the parallels. The symptoms of cybercrime range from the unpleasant to the deadly – from ransomware to malicious attacks on the healthcare industry, for example. Similarly, though many believe they are not and will not be affected, those who have seen cybercrime's consequences first-hand do understand its danger and lethality. And just like health professionals on the frontline, we understand that cybercrime is a threat we cannot beat alone.

That is why the World Economic Forum’s Partnership Against Cybercrime is such a critical and important effort, now more than ever. By placing the power of partnership and collaboration at the heart of its efforts to fight digital threats, the Forum is acting as both a beacon and a model for how to collectively strengthen both our efforts and resolve to defeat dangers that, just like a virus, seem to spread further each day.

That is particularly true now, as public and private leaders focus their energy and efforts on the COVID-19 pandemic. Cybercriminals are ruthless opportunists who recognize that any weakness or instability only serves to make their efforts easier. Since the onset of COVID-19, the FBI reports that cybercrime activity – already at near incomprehensible levels of intensity – quadrupled in just months.

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Thankfully, like their medical counterparts, cybersecurity professionals often see their work as a life’s mission and have devoted decades to developing the experience, expertise and insights we need to tackle this menace. As a private sector member of the Forum's partnership, I have seen – and been amazed by – the talent and commitment of a coalition that comprises cybersecurity providers, intelligence agencies and local and international law enforcement, banks and financial service companies, vendors and legal professionals. Thanks to the the Forum's serious assessment of the global risk of cybercrime and commitment to working to combat the problem, private and public sector experts are coming together, committed to creating a safer world together.

We will need them all. Because no one, no matter how experienced in their fields, can mitigate these risks alone. Companies across the digital security private sector have risen to meet one cybercrime challenge after the next, driven by healthy market competition and a shared sense of purpose alike. The Partnership Against Cybercrime has provided us with an opportunity to affirm our companies’ commitment to the bigger picture and purpose of digital security. The willingness of competitors to share knowledge and best practices has been inspiring. But we all recognize that no matter how brilliant our insights, we cannot do this alone.

To truly solve the problems that are not only happening out 'in the wild', but are escalating and intensifying, we must partner with law enforcement. This includes organizations like the FBI and INTERPOL, as well as local agencies and departments, and the lawyers and prosecutors that make up the criminal justice systems of countries around the world.

Now that the World Economic Forum has given us all seats at the table, and a powerful context within which to collaborate, it is up to us to carry this mission forward together. We are a coalition of realists, however, because whether you are in cybersecurity, law enforcement or any number of appropriate governmental bodies, it is hard to achieve any measure of expertise without understanding the realities.

Cybercriminals are exploiting the fear and uncertainty wrought by the pandemic
Cybercriminals are exploiting the fear and uncertainty wrought by the pandemic Image: INTERPOL

That doesn’t just mean the realities of preventing, catching and prosecuting cybercriminals, who – having perfected the expertise of obfuscation – hide in digital shadows. It also means the realities of the challenges of building a broad coalition on a foundation of trust and mutual understanding, one that can then serve as both a model and infrastructure that can be deployed globally. The ultimate goal is to harness the collective power of the public and private sectors to thwart the cybercrime that poses a major risk to global prosperity.

Especially when contrasted with the sheer speed and scale of cybercrime, that process can at times feel glacial. But we can not and will not lose commitment or momentum. Like any strong alliance and coalition, the Partnership Against Cybercrime must be rooted in transparency, fairness and equity as it explores innovative ways to overcome the barriers we all face, while amplifying public-private cooperation against cybercrime.

With such a diverse and complicated body, it is understood that trust must be built slowly, because it can be shattered quickly. As a member representing a private sector company, I have long been committed to working alongside industry experts and leaders to help thwart cybercrime and was a part of Fortinet when we helped to found the Cyber Threat Alliance. We must now apply the lessons learned there to better carry the public-private scope on this global stage. Key to this is the understanding that markets are often driven at different speeds than the public sector – with different types of stakeholders and areas of accountability. But I am encouraged and heartened, as I believe all the members of the World Economic Forum coalition appreciate the importance of establishing and respecting trust, which lie at the heart of what we are all building. I can only speak for Fortinet, but it feels this sentiment is shared by all members.

In an age now defined by incredible and invisible risks, it is remarkably powerful to see such diverse organizations from around the world come together to protect our collective wellbeing. It is difficult to look at the enormity of the threats we face and find any good in it. But if there is any, it rests in the understanding that the sheer size, speed and scale of the threats we face make our differences look extraordinarily small. The World Economic Forum’s Partnership Against Cybercrime is an increasingly powerful example of what we can do when we come, work – and fight – together.

If we have learned anything from COVID-19 and the challenges of social distancing, it is the deep value of human connection. But in an era where digital tools are now even more essential to daily life, we must all come together to ensure that connection – and the connectivity that empowers it – remains safe and secure.

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