Responding to a changing cyber landscape

As digitisation accelerates it becomes even more essential to ensure information systems are safe, says Richard Allmendinger.

As we have all witnessed first-hand, the pandemic has accelerated by several years the adoption of digital technologies across virtually every sector, from business and government to education. What is clear is that many of these technologies are now here to stay in one form or other.

This digital transformation does not only affect the way businesses operate, and interact with each other and their customers. It has also led to the development of various new digital products, increased the appetite for investing in digital initiatives, and transformed the labour market with tech savvy people high in demand.

But as digitisation accelerates it is becoming more essential than ever for organisations and businesses across all sectors to ensure that their information systems are safe. Similarly, we as individuals need to be aware of the risks of cyber attacks and the value that our personal information holds for cyber attackers. Hence it is more important than ever to put measures in place that can prevent cyber criminals from getting hold of sensitive data, devices and accounts.

Changing landscape

But how can organisations stay on top of a constantly changing cyber landscape?

On a positive note organisations – and in particular boards of directors – now understand that they need to be aware of the risks of cyber security, and the negative effect that cyber attacks can have on productivity and innovation. They also understand that investment in cyber security technology needs to be done carefully, trading off costs with return on investment.

One approach to deal with these challenges around cyber security is for organisations to partner with government and universities. Indeed this is precisely one of the reasons why the University of Manchester has just launched its Centre for Digital Trust and Society which aims to create a focus for national and international excellence in trust and security in a digital society.

The Centre will feature many business collaborations, such as with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and with GCHQ which recently opened an office in Manchester, and will also work alongside the University’s Institute for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, as well as with its LawTech and FinTech initiatives.

Engagement

In fact businesses are already engaging with the University of Manchester and Alliance Manchester Business School on this agenda. For instance a successful example of such a partnership is the Soteria Project, a collaborative £5.8m project funded by Innovate UK’s Digital Security by Design (DSbD) initiative with multi-disciplinary scientists from Manchester and the University of Oxford working with one of the world’s leading e-commerce businesses, THG, to help prevent cyber security attacks.

Soteria provides a unique opportunity to transform the digital security infrastructure of e-commerce (which accounts for about 20% of total UK retail spending, and forecasted to reach 50% by 2030), measure the impact of cyber breaches and attacks on the productivity of the sector, and then use these insights to reduce the costs required to secure digital businesses and services.

Talking of productivity, there are both opportunities and risks for productivity, jobs, and the distribution of gains emerging from the digital transformation, and these are issues which are also being looked at in-depth by the recently launched Productivity Institute based at Alliance Manchester Business School.

Risks here to stay

The risk of cyber security is here to stay. With cyber attackers shifting their focus to hitting the easiest targets rather than going for targets where there is most money, for an organisation (and individual) it has become critical to being better protected than others in order to be less of a target.

To succeed, it is critical for organisations to adopt a holistic approach to cyber security involving the buy in and awareness of the boards of directors, continuous cyber security risk-management, and where possible co-develop and embed leading trust and security research outputs to ensure state-of-the-art protection.

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