Cybersecurity: Covid has thrown into sharp relief the need for greater transatlantic cooperation - Image by Darwin Laganzon on Pixabay Almost two years into the global pandemic, boards and CEOs are counting the cost of the upsurge in cybersecurity attacks on both sides of the Atlantic. Cybersecurity is at the top of the agenda for corporates, institutions and governments.

It is why a major summit on 18 November is bringing together the globe’s top thinkers on cybersecurity – including NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană and INTERPOL’s Director of Cybercrime Craig Jones – to debate how businesses and governments can make the cyber space safer for everyone.

Just two years ago, cyberattacks were big news and rare events. Today they are everyday occurrences – a cyberattack is attempted every 39 seconds. But the losses involved are staggering. The annual cost of cybercrime to the global economy is estimated to have reached €5.5tn at the end of 2020. That is double the EU Commission’s 2015 estimate.

Cyberattacks on infrastructure threaten business continuity and the provision of essential services in transport, water and even food supplies. Recent incidents have seen attacks on hospital networks, energy grids, and other critical infrastructure, including defence capabilities. Financial fraud is a major issue, but cyberattacks also target democracies and national elections for political and ideological purposes.

Multinationals need to escalate security protocols

Organisations such as the World Economic Forum and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) have pointed to the extraordinary increase in cyber events, ransomware attacks and fraud. Multinationals with operations on both sides of the Atlantic need to escalate security protocols as a critical priority for action. Additionally, cybersecurity must be top of board agendas for key sectors regularly targeted by cybercriminals.

It is why Ibec Global’s major international summit, Cybersecurity – the transatlantic reboot, which takes place on 18 November, couldn’t be more timely. The summit gathers the world’s leading experts and top thinkers in cybersecurity to discuss how to effectively tackle cybercriminals and make the internet safer.

The leading minds taking part include: NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană; INTERPOL Director of Cybercrime Craig Jones;  Despina Spanou, Head of Cabinet of European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas; Paul de Souza, President of the Cyber Security Forum Initiative (CSFI); Sami Khoury, Head of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security; Irish government minister Ossian Smyth TD, Minister of State with responsibility for Public Procurement, eGovernment, Communications and Circular Economy, and Cristian Silviu Bușoi MEP, amongst other of the world’s top cybersecurity thought leaders, policymakers and law enforcement officials.

Covid: a perfect storm for organised crime

One of the major themes the summit will address is how the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the perfect storm leading to a massive upswing in cybercrime. When the global health crisis hit an increasingly digitised world – with the number of mobile devices set to grow to 25bn by 2025 – the world finally awoke to the true potential of connectivity.

Advances in digitally-enabled government and public services, the streamlining of business processes, and the freedom and empowerment of remote connections changed our lives and enabled continuity through a global lockdown.

But the speed of change brought opportunities that cybercriminals ruthlessly exploited. Corporates and individuals were exposed to cyber vulnerabilities associated with working-from-home protocols. Many of the resultant breaches were due to corporate unpreparedness. Faced with systems that were not secure or resilient, the abuse was significant. Ransomware attacks alone are estimated to have risen 148% in March 2020 as the pandemic hit.

A state of cyber disaster declared

Cyberattacks on governments and corporations have escalated massively over the last 12 months. Denial-of-service attacks have hit new heights while demands for ransoms are paid in cryptocurrencies. A case study that will be examined during the summit is the ransomware attack on the Irish health service earlier this year. It crippled the entire hospital network and related services for weeks.

The attack was carried out by a criminal gang based in St Petersburg, Russia. It caused major problems for clinicians as they attempted to battle the pandemic. The cost of the post-attack rehabilitation is estimated at some €100m, as Fran Thomson, CISO at Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE), will explain.

While state actors have carried out several major attacks, the capabilities of organised criminals have increased significantly. These are targeting companies without resilient cybersecurity protocols. The number of reports from organisations and authorities declaring themselves in a state of ‘cyber disaster’ is increasing. Many of these have been crippled by a ransomware attack.

A global challenge

The cybersecurity breaches of 2020 culminated in the Solarwinds espionage of the United States. It is a timely reminder to decision-makers worldwide of the heightened importance of cybersecurity in international geopolitics and trade. Recent high-profile supply-chain issues have revealed the soft underbelly of the global economy. It underlines the acute need for partnership in enhancing cybersecurity. Cybersecurity threats are more emboldened and creative than before and almost always transnational. Threats and disruptions to the transatlantic relationship are now digital.

The White House has fully recognised the need to act collectively. At a ransomware summit it hosted in October last year, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stressed that “no one country, no one group can solve this problem”. He is right. The threats of the future will likely be bolder, more creative and global in nature. It means that neither the US nor the EU can manage this threat alone.

The reasons for partnership are dictated by the shift in criminal focus. The convergence of cybercrime, fraud and financial or economic crime means it is now very difficult to say where one discipline begins and the other ends. It is essential that banks, financial institutions, utilities, tech companies and corporations share approaches. They need to work together on prevention and education and ensure common systems resilience.

Highly-digitised economies need to come together

There is a clear need for all highly-digitised economies to come together as partners to counter the global cybersecurity threat, the EU, UK, US and Canada alike, to mention just the major north transatlantic partners. International collaboration is needed to counter the international nature of criminal activity, containing online and offline elements, and addressing weaknesses in oversight, connectivity or protocols between institutions, organisations or jurisdictions.

But while evidence for the need to act is clear, global businesses do not always understand how they can act in partnership with others for the best outcomes. And this is why Ibec Global, as an influential voice of business leaders, is intensifying its support with international partners to help shape the shared response.

At Ibec Global, we recognise the urgent need amongst companies and government agencies to prioritise knowledge around cybersecurity and build a network of like-minded professionals to make cyber awareness mainstream. This is the major focus of Cybersecurity – the transatlantic reboot summit on 18 November. I personally invite all business, political and regulatory leaders concerned about cybersecurity to join us.

Ibec globalIbec Global is the International Business Division of Ibec – Ireland’s largest and most influential business representative organisation. Our purpose is to bring together key international stakeholders to debate and shape the trends and priorities critical to creating a successful, shared global economy and society.

That means that at Ibec Global our work is squarely focused on bringing people together to create a thriving world, with a sustainable future. We do this by identifying and harnessing the international business trends and opportunities that drive growth for businesses; advocating for enlightened policies and models in the context of major societal, policy, geopolitical and business trends; and influencing the conditions and providing the support for businesses to thrive globally. We operate through collaborating in and developing new strategic international networks to enhance these opportunities that are going to define the direction of business in the future.

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Jackie King
Jackie King is an entrepreneurial, forward-thinking international business leader with over 20 years of performance in turnaround and high-paced organizations. Based in Brussels, Jackie is currently Executive Director of International Business at Ibec – Ireland’s largest and most influential business advocacy and representative organisation. In that role, she is responsible for expanding Ibec’s international reach, profile and influence globally on issues that have the greatest impact on our economies and societies, and for enhancing international support for Ibec’s members and businesses that do business in, with and through Ireland. Prior to joining Ibec, Jackie spent three years as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce – Canada’s largest and most influential business association. Prior to joining the Canadian Chamber, Jackie spent 19 years with the country’s top-ranked public relations and public affairs consultancy – Hill + Knowlton Strategies (H+K). In her final role with the firm, Jackie was Senior Vice President and General Manager of H+K’s Ottawa office, responsible for developing and executing the corporate plan and accountable for strategic direction, as well as the performance of the office and its people.


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