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Thanks to the accelerating rate of technological advancement, our world is becoming more digitized and interconnected every day. This rapid rate of progression has led to the emergence of data security concerns and the corresponding science of cybersecurity.
To understand why cybersecurity matters to the average business or individual, one must consider the large volumes of data that businesses transmit to facilitate online communications and transactions. Cybersecurity was created as a specialized discipline focused on ensuring that the transmitted information could effectively be kept secure.
However, the threats that face online data transmission are constantly evolving, resulting in increased risks to sensitive personal and corporate information. Because of this, the study and application of cybersecurity has quickly made its way to the forefront of public, professional, and academic interest.
What is Cybersecurity?
Before we can explore the more nuanced aspects of cybersecurity, we must have a clear definition of the term. So what is cybersecurity exactly? Cybersecurity refers to the methods, efforts, and tools used to protect digital data, networks, and devices from unauthorized access, criminal attacks, or even damage.
The science of cybersecurity encompasses the safeguards and processes applied to securing not only physical or personal assets, but also digital ones. This could include proprietary processes, access-only systems, and personal information, as well as information vital to the operations of an entity or company, such as future plans, designs, or research results.
A growing number of technologies are available to address cybersecurity risk. To truly prepare for potential cyber attacks, companies must enact policies and strategies customized to their business. The development of cybersecurity protocols must not only involve the IT department, but also incorporate executive strategies and employee input on day-to-day technology use.
To fully protect data, cybersecurity must extend across all of the networks, hardware, software, and mobile devices used by a corporation. Entities must evaluate and test systems for risks and weaknesses. A framework must then be established that outlines how attacks are detected, how to protect systems when an attack occurs, and how to recover from successful attacks. Technologies used to enact these cybersecurity protocols include firewalls, malware protection, email protection, antivirus software, multifactor authentication, Domain Name System (DNS) filtering, and post-event analysis programs.
How Is Cybersecurity Used?
Cybersecurity incidents can lead to significant operational, financial, regulatory, and reputational damages. Cyber crime is expected to cost global businesses more than $5 trillion in potential revenue over the next five years, with the largest losses found in markets such as IT, healthcare, and financial services, according to Forbes. Here are a few examples of cybersecurity applications:
Healthcare organizations are especially susceptible to attacks due to rapid digitization and the high black-market value for stolen patient data. Hospitals must constantly check for patient record vulnerabilities and update equipment and software to safeguard against data hacks and ransomware attacks that can interfere with patient care. Smaller community hospitals are especially struggling to keep up with cybersecurity investments, according to The Verge.
Retail companies are also experiencing increased data vulnerabilities; for instance, a skimming attack on the Macy’s website during the pre-Christmas 2019 shopping season gave hackers access to shoppers’ personal and financial information. In response, Macy’s engaged a forensic contractor to clear the threat, offered consumer credit protections to customers, and submitted data to help others avoid similar incidents.
Small businesses are major targets for online attacks, as they typically can’t afford or aren’t aware of the need for sophisticated cybersecurity tools. More than 40% of cyber attacks are aimed at mom and pop operations, according to data from Accenture. The average cost of an incident across all types of companies is about $200,000, and 60% of firms go out of business after the event, according to CNBC. Backing up data, installing firewalls and antivirus tools, monitoring devices, and training staff can help protect against threats.
How Can Cybersecurity Succeed?
Cybersecurity must make leaps and bounds to keep up with blossoming technological applications and increasingly comprehensive data sharing. Here are a few key strategies to advance cybersecurity efforts:
Resilience. Organizations should evaluate their digital risk and prepare for future attacks by safeguarding essential systems and establishing a cybersecurity framework.
Prioritize. Companies should completely secure the most sensitive information before moving out to larger or peripheral volumes of data. Trying to secure a larger perimeter than an entity can effectively manage could compromise the effort, especially when first addressing cybersecurity.
Leadership. Company executives are responsible for an organization’s wellbeing, and cyber attacks are a growing risk. Leaders should ensure that cybersecurity is viewed as an organizational priority and that the security team has the right resources for success.
Employee training. Employees should be educated about the importance of using strong passwords, updating software, screening for phishing emails, and properly encrypting data transmissions.
Learning. Cybersecurity should be driven by a mutual respect between authorities in the industry and a willingness to help advance the field for the betterment of all.
Why Does Cybersecurity Matter?
Highly publicized breaches of supposedly secure systems, even those maintained by elite companies, cast fear into the population that their personal information could be exposed. These incidents also create concerns for business owners and executives that a cyber event could lead to extensive losses or reputational ruin. This makes cybersecurity an increasingly prevalent topic, with leaders in the field constantly collaborating on new strategies to overcome the latest cyber threats.
The relevance and commonality of identity theft is increasing, and banks, government entities, credit providers, and insurance companies are scrambling to stem the tide of this costly form of digital robbery. Businesses are increasingly experiencing phishing attacks, malware, ransomware, and social engineering attacks that steal data or block access to critical files and operating systems. Here are a few of the major concerns propelling the field of cybersecurity:
Privacy: Both corporate data and customer data are at risk. Hackers can maliciously use private digital information of many sorts — from organizational trade secrets and research data to consumer identification and financial records. This can result in identity theft, extortion, data loss, or a shutdown of critical operational systems. To protect against these threats, any organization that stores data should properly secure its data network or else it may be placing corporate and customer interests at risk.
Data-centric economy: Sensitive data is being stored in increasingly massive quantities. The world is building a reliance on internet of things (IoT) devices, or interconnected smart devices capable of storing and communicating data. IoT devices are used across government, factory, retail, and personal applications, with the number of devices increasing to 43 billion by 2023, according to McKinsey & Co. The growing amount of data being hosted online is creating an even greater demand for cybersecurity professionals who understand how to adapt to new forms of cyber attacks.
Infrastructure risk: Cybersecurity threats affect critical systems. Beyond threatening personal and corporate data, breaches can harm infrastructure assets that allow societies to function, including energy, communication, financial, and transportation systems. Attacks on traffic lights, dams, banks, and power grids could disrupt daily activities and cause major health and safety risks.
Global risk: Cybersecurity threats could affect an entire country, economy, or global infrastructure. The necessity of guaranteeing the safety and impenetrability of government networks is increasingly apparent as countries wage cyber attacks against each other. Concerns over election hacking attempts, for instance, include misinformation campaigns, shutdowns of voter registration databases, false voter files, or locked election office computers, according to TheWashington Post.
So why does cybersecurity matter? Cybersecurity is a vital process that protects people and organizations from criminals who wish to manipulate the private information of others to serve their own, likely malevolent, interests. Increasing cybersecurity efforts is critical to protecting against theft, data loss, economic and political incidents, and public health risks. Cybersecurity is increasingly important as organizations are required to remain agile and diligent in today’s vulnerable digital landscape, creating a high demand for cybersecurity professionals.
Pursue a Career in Cybersecurity
Establishing strong cybersecurity policies requires effort, prioritization, and cooperation to achieve a higher level of safety. Companies must establish a strong cybersecurity workforce to create policies on how to respond and recover when cyber attacks occur. If you’re interested in pursuing a cybersecurity career, a master’s program can equip you with the skills you’ll need to help companies overcome system vulnerabilities. Learn more about Maryville University’s online master’s degree in cybersecurity program.