Cyber Security: Can we innovate fast enough?

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Some sectors seem to develop faster than others. The computer industry has always been a fast-track innovator fuelled by miniaturisation, a hunger for speed, and a creative community that has brought us the Internet, phone apps, tablets and now the promise of the Internet of Things.  How many other industries have delivered so much and consistently managed to lower the price for a given level of performance in the way the IT industry has?

But in parallel we have had to deal with a darker side of innovation: viruses, hackers, phishers and fraud. Our reliance on all things silcon from running our business to running our social lives is now under threat from others who can defraud our business and take over our lives.

The question is, can we keep up? The first challenge is that the industry needs to constantly develop new defences against cyber attacks, new algorithms to encrypt passwords, and new processes to plug vulnerabilities.  Then we, as the users, have to keep up too. We now have numerous accounts, numerous profiles, and a proliferation of data in cloud services and on devices. All of these are protected by our passwords that ideally need to be growing in complexity, changed frequently, and different for each service we use.  And as this trend continues, we start to feel the fatigue of staying abreast of it all and wondering if we can continue to function in this fast-paced world.

Interestingly, as a species, we have probably been here before. I’m sure the Stone Age man wondered how he could live in a world as bronze tools emerged and accelerated the pace of change in all walks of life he was accustomed to; hunting, gathering, farming, and crafting. And at the same time he no doubt feared the bronze weapons being unleashed on his world and wondered if he could develop defences against them as they became sharper, longer, heavier and more accurate.

More recently we had the industrial revolution in which people feared the speed and capability of the motorcar, train, plane and robotic production line. As these new inventions allowed us to travel at high speeds across land and water, so too they enabled nations to engage in warfare and espionage. As a race, though, we pulled through again.

Cyber does offer its own new challenges however.  In a way, it allows numerous layers of reality (or virtual reality) to be created, so things become very much more abstract. It is harder for our brains to rationalise abstract things like data. Is it valuable? how does it really affect our privacy and those around us? is it dangerous? and so forth.

The good news is that so far it looks like we can innovate fast enough. Our systems haven’t melted down yet, and there are plenty of new services and interesting new defences emerging each day.  We’ll hear about some of these at the Festival this year: the Internet of Things, cyber security, Big Data, assurance of complex systems, new approaches to passwords and encryption, etc. Assuming of course we’re not out-paced in the next few weeks and everything starts to unravel…

Adrian Burden, Festival Founder