Russian hackers. Julian Assange. The Target data theft. Edward Snowden. Clinton’s emails. This flurry of high-profile data breaches has put the issue of cybersecurity on everyone’s minds. As the world becomes increasingly digital and interconnected, and the sharing of personal information on digital platforms becomes the norm, what’s at risk and how protected are we, individually and as a society?
Cybersecurity is the collection of measures taken to protect computers, computer systems, and information against unauthorized access and attacks. The concept was first introduced in the late ‘80s, when Robert Morris created what’s known as the first “computer worm,” a virus that nearly crashed the internet with the first ever widespread denial-of-service (DoS) attack. It was the beginning of a war that is still waged today—a war between the hackers and the protectors of cyberspace—and it’s growing bigger and more dangerous by the day.
However, today hackers are increasingly more sophisticated, and combatting them means cybersecurity specialists need to be better prepared than ever before.
“Now cybersecurity is a cross-functional discipline that requires a holistic approach as well as business acumen,” according to Gianluca D’Antonio, Academic Director of the IE School of Human Sciences and Technology’s Master in Cybersecurity program. It’s something that should be at the top of every organization’s mind.
We all remember Hillary Clinton’s infamous email fiasco last year, a scandal that undoubtedly weakened the trust of American voters and perhaps even played a role in the outcome of the election. Later, infamous news source WikiLeaks released a series of confidential emails between several key leaders of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), including off-the-record correspondence with the media and the financial information including high-profile donations to the Clinton campaign. As a result of the leak, which the US government and the CIA have asserted was orchestrated by Russian hackers, the DNC called for the resignation of several committee leaders, including chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz, CEO Amy Dacey, CFO Brad Marshall, among others.
These attacks don’t always target just one country or entity. The controversial Panama Papers, a collection of 11.5 million documents leaked by Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, released the previously private financial information of over 200,000 offshore entities around the globe. “John Doe,” as the anonymous whistleblower called himself, reportedly leaked the information to fight income inequality, as many of the entities involved were found guilty of tax evasion and fraud.
Regardless of your stance on WikiLeaks and the activity of other whistleblowers, the issue that should concern us all is that our systems were vulnerable to attack. Not all cybercriminals’ motives are solely political or moral. Some hackers hack for fun, and some—perhaps the most dangerous to us all—hack to steal personal information that can be used to make money, either by obtaining credit card details or by creating “malware” that victims pay for by mistake.
The US government—and almost every other government in the world—has fallen victim to major data breaches of citizens’ personal information. You may have heard of the massive breach in the Office of Personnel Management, which came to light in June 2015, that had compromised the information of roughly 21 million Americans. It took six months to individually notify all those affected, which included current and former employees. Similar breaches have happened to the US Department of Justice, the US Postal Service, the US Department of State, the National Weather Service, and even systems at the White House.
The threat of cyber attacks is growing in the business world as well, not only occurring more frequently but also on a bigger scale. The past few years have seen data breaches in household name companies such as Yahoo, Sony, JPMorgan Chase, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Dropbox, and Oracle, to name a few. These breaches not only damage customer relations but cost the companies a pretty penny—the rapid digitization of consumers’ lives and company records is estimated to increase the cost of data breaches to $2.1 trillion globally by 2019, which is nearly four times what it cost in 2015. The average cost of a data breach to each company is set to exceed $150 miIlion by 2020, as business infrastructure gets more and more connected.
So yes, it’s time to worry.
In a survey conducted by Reuters, 88% of global businesses said they are not prepared for cyber attacks. As they pour money into the same old systems, the attacks continue happening. So what can they do?
In response to this rampant cybercrime in recent years, we’re now seeing a wave of unique university programs preparing the next generation for careers in cybersecurity but with a background in business, making the business owner and the hacking expert one in the same.
One of these programs is the IE School of Human Sciences and Technology’s new Master in Cybersecurity, an innovative 10-month master program with more than 24 courses and 5 hands-on workshops to improve students’ skills and competencies in cybersecurity.
Gianluca D’Antonio, the academic director of the program, which will begin in October of this year, says the program’s focus “is not only on technical knowledge about information security but on developing organizational and business acumen. Students will work not only on technical subjects like ethical hacking, vulnerability discovery and malware analysis, but also soft skills like leadership, communication and change management.”
But could these students misuse what they learn in the classroom (i.e. become hackers themselves)? D’Antonio says he feels confident that the program’s education system ensures that students will respect legality and work honestly. Teaching these concepts in a controlled environment and with a business mentality inspires and prepares students to become business professionals who combat malicious hackers.
D’Antonio also stresses that personal cybersecurity must become a critical practice in every home. “What we call ‘digital disruption’ is changing our way of life,” he says. “Risk is shifting from the physical to the digital world.”
It’s not only businesses and governments who are at risk. Here are a few simple steps to take to protect your personal information:
- Change your passwords often and keep unique passwords for different accounts
- Make sure the virus/spyware protection on your computer is up to date
- Be wary of free wifi that doesn’t require a password
- Don’t use your banking app on a public wireless connection
- Remember to logout of your accounts when you’re done using them
Gianluca D’Antonio is the Academic Director of the new Master in Cybersecurity program at IE School of Human Sciences and Technology, which will prepare students for careers in cybersecurity with a strong focus on business intelligence and innovation. The program will start in October 2017 and is now accepting admissions applications. Learn more at www.ie.edu/cybersecurity or call +34 91 568 96 10 for more information.