Fundamental question

How can we build trust in the digital age?

main 119508842 imago – cyberattack illustration computer security hack crime IT digital internet software
Unfortunately, burglars have moved online as well. Source: imago

Digital technologies including artificial intelligence, big-data analytics, blockchain and cloud technologies are changing our lives and economies for the better. Billions of devices are connected by the Internet of Things, interacting on a new level. These technologies are changing the way we live, communicate and work. They are enabling new applications and business models. These advances are a great sign of progress. Growth forecasts predict a trillion-dollar business.

But these advances also bring new vulnerabilities. The recently disclosed processor security gaps Spectre and Meltdown affected the privacy of data on billions of devices. Criminal and malicious forces are trying to exploit our new digital infrastructures. They are attacking our democratic institutions, as well as banks, enterprises and healthcare systems. The global damage caused by such attacks is estimated at $3 trillion annually. This is approximately equivalent to the gross domestic product of countries such as Germany or France.

Failing to protect the systems that connect and control our homes, hospitals, factories, power grids and infrastructures could have devastating consequences. The digital world needs baseline security, to match the commonly accepted safety measures we take for granted in the non-digital world.

Fostering trust in cybersecurity now requires a broad alliance of companies and governments to act. No single entity can do it. Decisions must be taken now.

Ultimately, this is about how our modern lives and economy function. Cybersecurity determines how people and organizations embrace new digital technologies. Trust in it, therefore, is the basis for any growth and progress in the digital economy.

Businesses and governments must take joint ownership and responsibility for cybersecurity.

Companies and governments must take decisive action now to keep pace with the rapid advances in the market, as well as with growing threats from the criminal world.  Digital players such as IBM, Microsoft, Google and Amazon are working hard to achieve high levels of security and protect their reputation. The same applies in the industrial world, which is creating value at ever faster rates. My own company, Siemens, has adopted a “defense in depth” concept that provides comprehensive security mechanisms combining physical security, network security and system and software security.

Governments are also taking action. The European Commission, for instance, released a regulation for data protection (GDPR) which will take effect in May 2018. It also aims to define an EU cybersecurity certification framework. Many countries around the world are committed to facilitating more extensive and effective regulations.

All these efforts are helpful. But in order to make headway, businesses and governments must take joint ownership and responsibility for cybersecurity. There must be a focused and coordinated approach in taking action.

Hedging the all-encompassing impact of digitalization and cybersecurity, and creating a level playing field across globalized markets, requires strong multilateral collaboration between politics and business. Responsibility must be taken at the highest levels of government and corporate entities. It must be reflected by clear targets and measures.

Moreover, responsibility must be deployed throughout the digital value chain in order to ensure the most comprehensive cybersecurity. This involves fundamental and ongoing education and professional training in cybersecurity. Firms and policymakers should deepen their common understanding of what is needed for continuous innovation and adaptation of technologies, regulations and standardization. Data flows don’t stop at national borders. International rules would help everyone.

No single entity can manage implementation of all the necessary measures. Siemens’ “Charter of Trust” is its attempt to initiate close collaboration at all levels. The charter will be presented and signed together by business and political partners and witnesses at the Munich Security Conference.

Security must be an integral part of our digital world. Businesses and countries that want to play leading roles in the global digital markets will have to join forces in cybersecurity to maintain the trust of societies, customers and business partners.

A version of this article first appeared under the aegis of the 48th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, which is taking place on 23-26 January in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, under the theme Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World.

To contact the auhor: gastautor@handelsblatt.com

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