By Mr. Denis Cassinerio, Senior Director Global Distribution, Acronis.
In the grand tapestry of human progress, few notable innovations have propelled the world forward as profoundly as digitalization. The convergence of technology, innovation, and information has subsequently disrupted the way we do things at almost all levels and in turn, birthed a new era where everything, more so the way we work and live is redefined daily.
But even as we embrace and embark on this somewhat exciting transformational journey, it’s imperative that leadership in businesses and organizations acknowledge the shadow that trails this all-important technology advancement and innovations – the ever-growing cyber threat landscape.
Just as we require water and air for our survival, the need for robust and solution-oriented cyber protection has now become a fundamental necessity in our increasingly digitized and highly interconnected world.
The Inescapable Cyber Threat Landscape
Over the last couple of years, cyber threats and incidents have consistently become the order of the day. This has been driven by the fact that threat actors have also increasingly become more sophisticated in the development and deployment of cyberattacks.
With over 800,000 people falling victim to cyberattacks each year and more than US$17,000 in losses every minute due to phishing alone, Chief Information Officers and other key decision-makers in the organization must now also ensure the deployment of cyber protection safeguards as part and parcel of their overall digital transformation journeys.
According to the University of Maryland, Malware attacks alone cost companies an average of US$2.6 million with 95 percent of all breaches targeting government organizations, technological companies, or retail groups.
These statistics should continue to serve as a wake-up call for enterprises to think strategically about how best to protect their digital ecosystems. As companies continue to navigate the digitized landscape, it’s now becoming evident that while technology and innovation have the power to bridge gaps and enhance lives, they can also heighten inequalities.
According to the Global Risks Report 2023 by the World Economic Forum, the proliferation of technology is accompanied by the imminent risk of cyber attacks, with far-reaching economic, societal, and geopolitical consequences. This insightful report subsequently urges enterprises and individuals to first and foremost recognize that “technology will exacerbate inequalities while risks from cybersecurity will remain a constant concern.”
Take for example developed economies in Africa like South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. This has become a growing concern as most organizations keep reporting incidences of cyberattacks. This is a red flag in itself and calls for an urgent and, more importantly, robust intervention by all stakeholders.
The rise of cyber threats in the region is, however, not just a merely statistical trend; it’s a tangible menace that is increasingly affecting businesses both large and small, governments departments, and individuals alike who, for the most part, work from the comfort of their homes.
Notably, South Africa continues to experience a surge in cyberattacks with major companies including the SME sector falling victim to data breaches. These unfortunate incidences have ultimately resulted in the exposure of customer data and losses of about R2.2 billion annually.
According to INTERPOL’s 2022 Africa Cyberthreat Assessment report, South Africa led the continent in the number of identified cybersecurity threats. It reported over 200 million threat detections, with the majority of them being email-related threats. But even as gatekeeping entities such as The South Africa Cybercrime Hub report an alarming surge in cybercrime, it’s encouraging to see solutions being deployed at key levels.
South Africa’s Cyber Security Framework
In the face of an ever-evolving threat landscape, South Africa’s response, which is anchored on a comprehensive Cyber Security Framework, is arguably commendable. Not to be left behind, South Africa’s private sector’s role in implementing information security measures equivalent to those of the government is pivotal and indeed a step in the right direction.
Stakeholders in the cybersecurity industry will also agree that South Africa’s National Cybersecurity Hub serves as a focal point for coordination, collaboration, and exchange of insights between the public and private sectors. These efforts are timely and also urgently needed, as evidenced by the 78 percent of South African organizations that experienced ransomware attacks last year, as reported by Sophos’ The State of Ransomware in South Africa 2023.
Bridging the Skill Gap: A Shared Responsibility
While arming the organization with a great and robust cyber protection strategy is important, having a skilled team can make a huge difference in the overall outcome. Today, a pressing challenge for many enterprises looms in the acute shortage of cutting-edge cybersecurity skills.
South Africa, in particular, has been known to grapple with this deficit – a position that exposes its digital ambitions at a higher risk. However, it is also worth noting that best-practice solutions are within reach. This includes the reskilling and upskilling of the existing workforce, coupled with the pivotal role of Managed Service Providers, which can help bridge the skill gap.
Simplification and Reskilling: Imperative for Success
Complexity has long been the adversary of effective cybersecurity. The more intricate our systems become, the more vulnerable they are to exploitation. Reskilling and upskilling are, therefore, essential tools in our arsenal to counter this complexity. The World Economic Forum on its part has also emphasized the urgent need to prioritize reskilling the workforce as a critical pillar in bridging the cybersecurity skills gap. A simplified approach to cybersecurity is not only pragmatic but also necessary in a world where the threat landscape grows more intricate by the day.
The Enigma of AI and ML in Cybersecurity
In an effort to ensure a solid cyber defense, the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) has now emerged as a beacon of hope for the industry. These timely technologies and innovations have the potential to significantly transform the landscape by identifying threats and loopholes even before they materialize. As highlighted by Acronis, AI and ML offer unprecedented capabilities in ransomware protection, showcasing the role of innovation in fortifying our digital future.
To conclude, the digitalization of work and home has provided us with incredible opportunities for growth and expansion. However, it has also cast a long shadow in the form of cyber threats in various forms. To prevent these unwanted attacks from happening, it is imperative that the private sector, government, and individuals collectively forge a robust cyber protection front.
All stakeholders must actively address the skill gap, simplify strategies, and harness the power of AI and ML to protect what is most precious in this digital age – data. As team leaders and decision-makers shaping the future of our organizations, the onus falls on us to lead this charge and secure the promise of a digitized world for generations to come.