I was excited to be able to participate in the CNBC Evolve live stream on cybersecurity, especially at a time when Public Safety agencies and all of those involved in security are being forced to adapt and change to address a myriad of threats and challenges – especially the dynamic and rapid increase of cybercrime.

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With an increase in cybercrime, the public sector must adapt to address a myriad of threats and challenges.

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Necessity is the mother of invention. And that adage very much applies to the switch that criminals have made from their traditional activities to exploiting opportunities online, as the pandemic created an almost ideal environment for cyber threats to flourish.

A digital crime pandemic

Lockdowns have seen many millions of people switching to work from home. IT teams rushed to ensure business continuity. Governments had to act equally fast to ensure that stimulus and support packages were available to businesses and citizens. And that meant little time to consider fraud and security issues. 

The result of all this? The potential attack surface available to cybercriminals expanded massively, almost overnight.

Criminals also took advantage of people’s curiosity and fear as they sought information about the COVID-19 virus. In January 2020 alone, roughly:

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COVID-related domains were registered around the world.

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While some were legitimate, the majority were not. Overall, the pandemic created an unprecedented opportunity for criminals and nation-states. And they have been all too willing to take advantage.

Emerging tech changes the rules

But the pandemic, while significant, is not the only factor dramatically changing the threat landscape.  Emerging technologies – from quantum computing to biosecurity and deep fakes – continue to reinvent the art of the possible for cybercriminals. All of these and more will change the cryptographic security standards we rely on today.

Four priorities

So what does this mean for public safety agencies and others involved in addressing this unparalleled security challenge? I believe there are four areas where they need to focus:

1 - Become nimbler and more responsive

Agencies must become nimbler and more adaptable to the speed and volatility of changing threats, meeting them with an equally rapid and potentially less traditional response. This can also mean changing approaches and operating models. And it requires a shift to prevention and disruption rather than a predominant focus on detection and prosecution.

2 – Increase workforce digital literacy

Public safety agencies must equip their workforces with greater digital literacy and skills. That’s essential to address the fact that almost every crime today is digital in one way or another. More generally in any organization, it’s crucial to raise user awareness of risk, along with policies to combat threats including phishing or social engineering.

3 – Embrace new technology

Agencies and other organizations must unshackle themselves from the limits of legacy technologies and architecture and take maximum advantage of capabilities such as: the cloud, platforms, AI, digital twins and robotics.  They must use these powerful capabilities to strengthen preparedness, deliver greater insight and increase the speed, accuracy and effectiveness of agencies’ responses.

4 – Increase collaboration

Agencies won’t solve the cybersecurity challenge by acting alone. Collaboration is essential, with a need to expand and rethink partnerships. Public safety agencies, other areas of government and the private sector, must come together to pool insight and intelligence, share and enable skills and capabilities and find innovative ways to stay ahead of the threat.  Collaboration should also be extended to the public who need to be better informed and made aware of threats so they can identify them, take the right action and protect themselves.

Formidable but not insurmountable

There’s no escaping the fact that cybersecurity challenges are growing, evolving, and increasingly borderless. But they can be overcome by combining human ingenuity and technology, driven by bold leadership and collaboration.  How are you changing the way your organization and people operate in response to this growing and evolving threat?

If you’d like to continue the discussion, you can follow me on LinkedIn.   

This blog is a summary of some thoughts I shared as part of a CNBC Evolve Livestream event with Michael Orlando (Acting Director of the National Counterintelligence & Security Center) and John Demers (Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice’s National Security Division).

James Slessor

Global Public Safety Lead

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