Tech

Cyber security is a job for chief executives, not just the IT team

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Data breaches are no longer the exception, but the norm.

More data was lost or stolen in the first half of last year than in the whole of 2016, with the number of businesses that have been hit by a breach reaching an all-time high.

Hackers’ abilities to bypass digital defences are constantly improving, as are both the number and sophistication of these crippling attacks. However, regardless of the changing landscape, the enormity of the risk to businesses due to poor cyber security management has yet to properly hit home.

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In the last 12 months alone, the picture has worsened, with a list of big brands falling foul to the devastating effects of weak digital security practices.

Second-hand electronic goods retailer CeX, telecommunications conglomerate Verizon, and consumer credit reporting agency Equifax are but a handful of names that comprise an unenviable group of businesses. What’s more, so severe was the fallout from the Equifax breach that the company’s chairman and chief executive resigned shortly afterwards.

With cyber attacks now posing real dangers to a company’s bottom line, corporate reputation, customer retention, and also employee confidence, threats emanating from technology can no longer be relegated to the remit of the IT department. They must be dealt with first-hand in the boardroom.

Rather worryingly, the Cyber Governance Health Check (an annual survey conducted by the government) revealed that, of the 105 businesses questioned from the FTSE 350, one in 10 have no plan in place to cope with hacking, despite over half of respondents also citing it as one of the primary threats to their business.

In an effort to streamline operations and boost revenue in certain areas, advancements in technologies like the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, big data and most recently cryptocurrency have started to force the hands of businesses.

As a result, our own research has revealed that nine in 10 organisations around the world are now storing more sensitive data in these emerging technology environments than ever before.

This in turn means that the exploitable opportunities for hackers and the scale of companies’ digital vulnerabilities are at their peak.

If companies are going to use these new technologies, they need to build in data protection right from the start. Effective data security means having the correct digital deterrents in place, with some constantly running through automated processes. This will reduce the level of complexity for businesses, while, staff can continue their day-to-day roles, knowing that their organisation is being protected around the clock.

Instead of viewing cyber security as daunting or complex, or as an added extra, companies should instead embrace the range of options available to them and ensure it remains a key part of their core business model, and a factor in any new technological developments.

Interestingly, we also discovered that, with impending EU-wide regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation and the Second Payment Services Directive looming large on the horizon, avoidance of financial penalties has now become the number one motivator for increased spending on security technology.

But protecting consumer data must be an ethical imperative, not merely a financial concern.

Educating and upskilling executives is nothing short of crucial in the digital age. And delaying the implementation of a robust data protection strategy simply cannot be overlooked when the stakes are so high.

With the endless list of competing priorities facing organisations – from the challenges of geopolitical and economic upheavals, to risk management, talent retention, and innovation – it can be daunting to assess just how harrowing the effects of a data breach could be. However, getting cyber security right means taking no half measures and cutting no corners.

Adapting to the new digital climate won’t be easy. Nor will tussling with the unprecedented level of technological change.

In order to progress successfully, business leaders must place renewed emphasis on long-term thinking, significant investment in the right areas, and more unified international cooperation to combat the harsh realities of today’s data threat landscape.

To protect companies’ most valued digital assets and keep up with the pace of technological change, greater investment in a highly-skilled, well-trained workforce will be nothing short of essential.

Those business leaders who choose to give cyber security nothing more than a passing thought do so at their own peril.

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