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Three ways to secure your data in a hyper-connected world

Here’s how to mitigate the risks without sacrificing innovation

Three ways to secure your data in a hyper-connected world
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More than ever, our lives are entwined with the technologies we use. Interconnected devices play an increasingly important role in how we drive our cars, pay for groceries, and even monitor our health. As cities experiment with smart infrastructure and hospitals integrate more internet-enabled devices, connectivity is poised to touch every part of our lives.

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At the recent Fast Company Innovation Festival, a panel presented by Booz Allen Hamilton gathered experts with experience across industries to discuss how connectivity is increasingly integrated into all aspects of our lives. They considered the opportunities and risks of an interconnected world and explored how to address security concerns without sacrificing innovation. Here are three key points for companies to consider as they prepare for an ever more connected future:

1. Keep tabs on emerging risks

Interconnected devices such as automated insulin pumps and autonomous vehicles are already a part of many people’s daily experience. But the enormous advances of these devices must be balanced out by an understanding of the new vulnerabilities they create. Kevin Tierney, vice president of cybersecurity at General Motors pointed out that when digital devices have physical consequences, the risk-reward equation shifts. “It’s not just data privacy, or intellectual property protection [that we’re concerned about],” Tierney said. “It’s physical and safety risks.”

Now, these devices—which used to be found primarily in controlled environments such as hospitals—are making their way into people’s homes. Take, for instance, medical devices such as insulin pumps that relay critical patient data to healthcare teams, all while the patient is at home or at work. “The security aspects are even more critical because they’re outside the four walls of a hospital,” noted Kelly Rozumalski, the secure connected health director at Booz Allen Hamilton.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed further points of vulnerability, according to Alissa Abdullah, a senior vice president and deputy chief security officer at Mastercard—particularly because much of the workforce rapidly changed its procedures. “We’ve got so many people connected [and] working from home,” Abdullah said. “And [many of these] connections are unprotected.”

2. Build in security from the ground up

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The more these devices become embedded in our lives, the more data is produced—data that is more granular and personalized and potentially more valuable to bad actors. Case in point: Healthcare data now fetches a higher price on the black market than credit card information, according to Rozumalski. Accordingly, companies will likely face greater accountability for their data practices. “There’s going to be a bigger responsibility to make sure that information stays safe, that data lakes stay protected, and that information is used in the right way,” said Abdullah, who also served as White House chief information officer during the Obama administration.

That’s why, Tierney pointed out, it’s crucial for companies to proactively build security into their devices, rather than relying on consumers to secure their own data. “It’s hard for the customer to understand what that new entry point means to them [in terms of data privacy], so they’re dependent on us, frankly, to do the right thing,” he said.

Such forward-thinking action will also help companies stay ahead of regulations. Tierney said it’s likely that we’ll see more mandates about data privacy along the lines of Europe’s GDPR and the California Privacy Act. And when every week seems to bring news of a new security breach, offering consumers choices about how their data is handled can empower customers and help them feel more in control.

3. Stay ahead of further disruption

As new technologies—and new uses of current technologies—continue to evolve, it’s important to stay ahead of the curve. One major development to keep tabs on is the advent of quantum computing, which has the potential to fundamentally transform the security landscape. “We cannot even fathom at this point the amount of computing power that it’s going to bring into our lives,” Abdullah said. With more computing power comes new security threats, so Mastercard has created a special “crypto council” to examine and address these forthcoming risks.

The growing adoption of 5G is similarly poised to transform the technology landscape. 5G-enabled wearable devices will allow the healthcare industry to be more predictive and proactive—but they also open up new vulnerabilities. “As these devices become more connected, they expand our attack surface,” Rozumalski said. “Each vulnerable connected device or technology could be used as an entry point to an entire hospital network.”

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The security of our connected future is not only shaped by what technologies we have, but also how people use them. Tierney noted that the pandemic has profoundly shifted our behavior: “This really could drive a much faster adoption of virtual reality technologies and remote work, [which] has profound security implications.”

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that security and innovation are not in conflict with one another. As Rozumalski put it, “I firmly believe that cybersecurity is going to help accelerate this innovation instead of delaying it.”

Click here to watch this panel from the Fast Company Innovation Festival.

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FastCo Works is Fast Company's branded content studio. Advertisers commission us to consult on projects, as well as to create content and video on their behalf.

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