Why you should stop worrying about cybersecurity

Adrien Ogee, Technology and Innovation Lead, Centre for Cybersecurity, World Economic Forum

Last year, for the first time ever, cybersecurity risks were ranked second among the top five global risks identified by the World Economic Forum. Over the past decade, experts and journalists have emphasized the costs, the threats, the dangers of cyber... but what has that achieved, other than fueling digital mistrust?

Developing a cybersecurity mindset is an incredible opportunity to make the most of the decades to come.

Owing to the ever-growing permeation of technology into every aspect of our life, most people have come to feel frightened and paralysed, or worse, unconcerned and careless.

How can users protect themselves when hackers seem to be able to get into any computer? How can citizens protect their privacy when many governments seem to want to tap every phone? Cybersecurity is considered a collective responsibility, yet the end-users, those who can actually make all the difference, have been disempowered.

It would be so easy to believe statements such as: “In 2021, artificial intelligence and social engineering chatbots will help scammers be much more convincing, at scale.” “Disinformation campaigns, deep fakes and targeted political advertisement will all further erode your free will.” Yet in parallel, we will continue adopting new technologies with little to no security, making us easy prey for low-level cyber criminals.

And so a vicious circle has developed: paralysis and carelessness only lead to exaggerated claims like the ones above, and vice versa. This vicious circle must be broken. As we begin a new decade, we must break away from this discourse.

The reason you should stop worrying about cybersecurity isn’t because the risks aren’t there. It’s because worrying will only prompt you to take the wrong decisions. No, you shouldn’t worry, but you should care: developing a cybersecurity mindset is an incredible opportunity to make the most of the decades to come.

The benefits of a cybersecurity mindset

A cybersecurity mindset is simply a view of cyberspace that is grounded in reality. Far too many people worry too much, or not enough, about what could happen on the internet. These extremes are fuelled by a misunderstanding of what cyberspace is about. Many think that cybersecurity is for geeks and computer geniuses. It’s not. There are complexities, to be sure, but no more than in any other discipline, and none that are out of your reach, preventing you to make the most of new technologies.

Learning about individual cybersecurity, how to protect oneself online, is within reach. BBVA recently published a series of useful cyber tips to kickstart a learning journey. And there are dozens of excellent courses online in English, French, Spanish. There are websites, books, TV shows and podcasts that can help you develop a cybersecurity mindset in a few hours. It’s not just accessible, it can be fun too.

  1. Developing  a cybersecurity mindset helps  you focus your energy on creating value.  You can define your risk profile, learn to think in terms of probabilities and discern unlikely scenarios. It allows you to realize that when you can’t log into your preferred social network, it’s probably just a mistake and not a criminal that stole your identity. Sure, these things happen, but you want to know  how and why, so you only worry when necessary. Doing so means you can spend most of your energy creating new sources of value, rather than protecting existing ones.
  2. Developing a cybersecurity mindset helps you gain confidence in managing your online activities. It allows you to identify fake websites that will sniff your credit card details, laugh off a fake connection request on social media, double check a political hoax, or hear scammers from miles away.  More than half of all email traffic is phishing: emails attempting to lure recipients into doing the wrong thing. Often times people worry that they’ve received a virus by email, that their computer is infected, or that someone is after them. It takes a cybersecurity mindset to know when that is in fact the case.
  3. Developing a cybersecurity mindset helps you  to reap most of the benefits of digital technologies, well aware of their downsides. For instance, you will be able to  understand the business models of data-intensive companies, or the real cost of AI vocal assistants. You will be in control of who you are, what you own and what others see, read, and hear about you.  Even silence is a form of communication: in the era of personal  branding, not having an online presence is a statement in itself.
  4. Developing a cybersecurity mindset also helps  you become an active member of the new economy, to educate people of all ages around you, to help them avoid some of the traps that do exist, from cyber bullying to online predators, drugs, scams, and worse. It may be your parents, your children, your friends: a cybersecurity mindset means you can help them live more securely and fully, save time, create value, connect with others, and disconnect when need be.

Adrien Ogee, Technology and Innovation Lead, Centre for Cybersecurity, World Economic Forum

When you care about cybersecurity, everyone wins.

When we acquire a cybersecurity mindset, we don’t just help those around us, we help the entire world. When we start caring about what information we give away online, when we start asking questions, voicing our needs and concerns, governments, technology manufacturers and online service providers are compelled to respond with better solutions, in line with what we care about. When we start caring about our privacy, about our digital rights, about our electoral processes, we push the entire internet ecosystem to care.

And this helps those who can’t care for now.

Over half of the world population does not have access to any form of social protection: developing a cybersecurity mindset is not a priority for billions of people. But their reality is already digital. They may have only a digital identity. They own smartphones, social media accounts and crypto-wallets.

Digital leapfrogging, or the attempt by emerging countries to access their share of the new economy, brings about its share of risks. When you don’t have a bank account, when all that shields you from bankruptcy is a weak password, when you have no one to turn to in case of identity theft, digital threats can have physical, massive, even life threatening consequences.

We can all play a role, educating ourselves and caring for cybersecurity, because a rising tide lifts all boats. Along with many other non-profits around the world, the BBVA Microfinance Foundation strives to empower people in such dire situations.

A cybersecurity mindset is more than a competitive differentiator for you, your family or your company. It is a prerequisite to peace, progress and prosperity in the digital era. When you can stop worrying about cybersecurity and you start caring about it, everyone wins.