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How New Zealand and the world can address cyberattacks

An expert on regional responses to cyber security, cyber warfare and other transnational security challenges led a captivating talk about the impacts of cybersecurity in New Zealand and globally, according to a recent report.

Cyberattacks may seem less tangible than extreme weather events or acts of terrorism, but they are pervasive, damaging and must be taken seriously.

The University of Waikato academic highlighted a seemingly worldwide conundrum, which included accusations of cyber subversion upsetting the US democratic election process.

The Wannacry ransomware hacking event in 2017 was also mentioned, which was evidence that cyber “insecurity” is widespread and costly.

Indeed, the price tag of cybercrime is currently NZ$ 600 billion annually and is expected to jump to NZ$ 6 trillion annually by 2021.

People, businesses and organisations remain to be at risk of cyber insecurity because cyber-related threats, attacks and incidents are by definition fast moving and innovative.

The strategies to mitigate or prevent such activities simply cannot keep up with the ever-changing approaches.

Cybercriminals, for instance, are becoming more and more sophisticated, obtaining personal information through social media profiles and activities.

They do this in order to develop tailored subversion tactics that can fool even the most astute online user.

Furthermore, the growing use of multiple, interconnected devices like phones and tablets, at-home entertainment systems and even cars, increases the vulnerability to cyber subterfuge.

One in five Kiwis is affected annually by cybercrime, at an estimated cost to the country of nearly NZ$ 260 million in 2016.

More than half of New Zealand businesses say they do not have an incident response plane for cyberattacks.

Yet, 40% of companies think it is likely that they will experience some form of cybercrime in the next 24 months.

Given these numbers, it is perhaps surprising that New Zealand is ranked among the top 10 countries in the world considered to be “cyber mature”, or best prepared for cyberattacks.

New Zealand boasts of a number of cyber security initiatives to support this high global ranking. These include a National Cyber Security Centre and a National Cyber Policy Unit.

It also has a Cortex programme of capabilities to counter cyber threats to organisations of national significance.

New Zealand has also established the NZ Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) as well as a NZ Cyber Skills Taskforce to address the shortage of cyber professionals in the country.

The expert called for global collaboration and conversation to help instigate the kind of real action needed in the fight against cyber insecurity.

A plethora of international initiatives were identified to help win the battle against cyber insecurity. One is the Convention on Cybercrime of the Council of Europe (CETS No. 185), which is also known as the Budapest Convention.

Second is the appointment of cyber ambassadors to engage with neighbouring countries and serve as a UN advocate.

Another would be the establishment of a Cyber Geneva Convention to help prevent cyberattacks on “soft” targets such as health care services and systems.

The development of an international strategy around artificial intelligence (AI) could also help.

National strategies, collaborations among businesses, and a wide debate about exposure to and risk of cyber insecurity are needed since evidence of what can happen when these issues are not taken seriously are already there.

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