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Hey Public Leaders, You Can’t Afford to Walk Away from Cybersecurity

September 28, 2017

Cybersecurity can seem daunting. But you can’t afford to walk away from this area of expertise.

First, as a knowledgeable consumer and public citizen, being smart about technology choices can help you to be more productive and protected. This is the story on the IT level – which hardware and software you choose and how you navigate the wealth of resources that are out there. Being equipped with knowledge on these choices will help you to make more organized decisions and to limit your personal risk.

Second, and most pressing, you need to know about cybersecurity and emerging tech to understand the corporate dynamics that undergird our current world. In every industry, from retail and hospitality, to banking and finance, to roads and buildings, the ways we interact are mediated by companies and augmented by the technologies they create.

We used to have a fairly known set of relationships between individuals and companies: employee / employer, rental company / house renter, car company / car buyer. Now we have interactions that are webbed. So your HVAC company contracts with hardware and software companies and embeds decisions about functionality and security. This doesn’t mean you have to be an HVAC specialist, it means that as citizen-consumer, your decisions carry weight and the better you understand the technologies that surround you, the more equipped you will be to do business and to live fully.

Today, products and processes are the culmination of a series of corporate interactions, each the result of many decisions. So, when you buy your new iPhone X, you inherit a set of security and interoperability decisions. Apple, for example, sets a corporate strategy that uses a narrowly constrained, vertically integrated supply chain. In plain words: Apple develops all of its technology in-house and limits its products to being interoperable only with Apple-developed products. This is inefficient and expensive, but it’s placing a priority on security.

When you, as a public leader in any industry, make decisions at an enterprise level, you amplify the considerations. Now we’re talking about decisions that involve more than one iPhone; considerations might involve the ways you interact with corporate and consumer data as well as hardware and software decisions. Every industry has to interact with consumers in and through technology-- and as a result the risks magnify. You may introduce some industry-specific risks, too-- as in the case of education or medical records.

Regardless of industry, the cost of risk is higher at an enterprise level. Moreover, as I’ve explored, there are complex corporate dynamics and security decisions that underlie each technology that you introduce into your enterprise. If, for example, you serve on a corporate board: you are in a position to influence enterprise decisions like what your entity will allow and what your entity will transact on each platform. This means you have the ability to steer not just cybersecurity decisions, but business decisions, in wiser ways.

To take a back-seat is dangerous. In this new reality we constantly sit with our technology decisions. As a citizen-consumer, and as a professional, you owe it to yourself to develop your cybersecurity knowledge-base.

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Merritt is a cybersecurity and emerging tech expert in Washington, D.C. The views expressed here are the author’s personal views and do not reflect the FCC or the US Government, for whom she works. She will be developing content and curricula for Fels Institute of Government. Follow her on Twitter at @MerrittBaer and on the Fels website.

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