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Our World in Transition and Our Future Demands

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month and for me, it’s a time to reflect on where we’ve been and how far we’ve come, study the trends and challenges we face today, and look ahead to the next generation of opportunities facing not only the security community, but society at large.

In my more than 30 years in the security industry, it’s been interesting to see how technology has evolved and changed the world. Security started off as a ‘systems’ conversation. Now, technology touches everyone’s lives, and as a result, cybersecurity affects us all – individuals, businesses, cities, countries, our global community.

From Use to Reliance

During our lifetimes, we’ve shifted from using technology to, in very subtle ways, becoming reliant on it. Whether we realize it or not, these subtleties have made us dependent on technology. The notion of ‘always on’ access to data is highly disruptive to us when we don’t have it. Take maps for example: using a printed map is foreign to us today, and when the maps on our devices don’t work, we’re lost, literally.

When technology is unavailable, in many respects we feel ‘out of the loop’ and behind in knowing what’s going on. There’s a lagging indicator that says, ‘Now that we have access to current information, we always expect this level of connectivity – we depend on it.’ That reliance makes securing the data and the systems that deliver it to us that much more vital.

A Confluence of Change – All in Three Years

Since 2017, three major transitions have occurred that illustrate how complicated cybersecurity has become for us all globally. These transitions have caused security professionals to feel the pressure and scrutiny from a number of organizations that have upped their games. They’re having to catch up to a confluence of changes, all occurring at the same time:

1. Technology

Prior to 2017, IT predominantly built and ran an organization’s technology infrastructure, spending on security and hoping it works, relying on best-of-breed products, and managing it all reactively.

We all needed cybersecurity, but how could we net the best results – the greatest level of efficacy – from the solutions we purchased? Exactly how much value are we getting when spending on a solution? Is it all integrated as a best strategy or are we simply buying technology from the leading brand name or best advertised?

Today, leading IT teams build, buy and run security, use a ‘best-of-integrated’ architecture approach and emphasize visibility, controls, measures and proactive approaches to security that drive efficacy and value.

2. Laws, Regulations, and Customer Requirements

This transition shows the increasing influence that laws, regulations and customer requirements have on a technology or service provider to its clients, and in turn, to their customers, citizens, colleagues, families and friends.

The formalization of laws and regulations – from the EU-NIS Directive to GDPR to the Australian Government Protective Security Policy Framework to the California Consumer Privacy Act, to name a few – have driven greater scrutiny and reform. It’s accelerated substantially in a short period of time, from ‘do-it-yourself’ disharmonious regulations and rule, to a set of country, inter-country and international use standards.

Now corporate and government leaders across the international community are being held accountable. This transition from varying self-rule and self-regulation to accountability, breach reporting and disclosure highlights the implications of mishandling data and privacy through significant fines and executive firings.

In many respects, it’s been a long time coming. What’s interesting is that now that it’s here, it’s caught many off-guard – and it’s by no means slowing down.

3. Internal Oversight

When I started in InfoSec, security was mainly an engineering or computer science discipline. The security team was often avoided so that they couldn’t suppress innovation because of security concerns. The business was self-governing with inconsistent levels of oversight.

Today, internal reporting to and oversight by executive leadership, the CEO, the board of directors and shareholders are becoming standard practice to ensure proper governance. In part, it is a response to the regulatory landscape and the need for higher levels of accountability and oversight from within. It’s also based on the criticality of technology moving from something we use to something we rely on to deliver a service.

All three of these transitions came to the fore in a very short period of time to know how to effectively react, govern and solve for it. By the way, we’re all going through this and determining our own strategies to face the challenges, net the value they deliver, and understand how to be safe and secure in and around it all.

Our Future Demands

Today, there are about 4 billion internet users globally – all told about 10X of what it was in 2000. We’re in a world where everything is being connected and generating data. This will have significant impact on the next few years in particular and even more substantially into the future.

By next year, there will be about 200 billion devices ‘on air,’ which includes cars, telemetry in cities, sensors and a multitude of other connected devices. Two-hundred billion is almost an ephemeral number, but it’s not to be underestimated because the number of vendors creating IoT-connected technology is growing probably 3-4X every year than the prior year. That’s a trend that I don’t see slowing down any time soon.

By 2021, cybercrime is estimated to be a $6 trillion industry – a very profitable industry, though I don’t recommend it as a career choice. It does illustrate the depth and breadth of the challenge – that it’s an international and global issue that we all have to work together to solve because it’s something that we all face.

Raising the Bar for a More Secure Future

Governments and businesses globally are raising the bar to meet the challenge around product assurance, cloud assurance, IoT, lawful intercept, data protection, privacy and the like. Some 30-odd countries are writing or revising their cybersecurity strategies and each can have profound implications on how data is shared and how systems are built.

So, during Cybersecurity Awareness Month, consider what you can do to make the world more safe and secure, and take action. What can you do as individuals? How are you protecting yourself online and helping your business, colleagues, friends and family to do the same? Each individual act, when taken together, can move us all to a more secure future.

We’re not looking for headlines that show ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ We need trend lines that show that what we’re doing collectively is moving us all towards lower risk. As long as the trend line is going in the right direction, we’re doing what we need to do – and we must all do our part.

For governments, companies and individuals alike, Cisco’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month site offers events, activities and educational content, and ways to get involved. The Cisco Trust Center also offers resources to help you with security, data protection and privacy. Both feature links to security reports, videos, threat intelligence, thought leadership and more that will keep you informed.