The hyper connected world in which we live offers enormous benefits and opportunities for development, but also brings with it serious risks. We have almost sleepwalked into an era of total dependence on technology; from cell phone banking in Kenya that is around 30% of GDP to global just in time supply chains to global financial flows, travel and our own daily habits. The growing number and sophistication of cyber attacks is proof that we are all exposed to these risks. Indeed those that mean us harm see technology as an enabler and they don’t discriminate between big or small states or between small businesses and well established multinational corporations. Any society or individual can be a victim of cyber threats, regardless of politics, language, age, or religion.
In the Americas, governments and private sector companies promote access to information and communications technologies (ICTs) to foster equality and inclusion across all sectors of society. Technology is the great equalizer of the 21st century. Knowledge is available in microseconds. Friendships blossom between people thousands of miles away from one another. We have lagged, however, in our efforts to raise awareness on the responsible use of these powerful tools that open so many doors. These enabling forces can also endanger our privacy, the financial health of businesses, and even the democratic stability of our countries.
We are adapting to a dynamic digital age, and cyber security raises parallels between the age-old security question that has defined our societies for centuries. What is the government’s duty in keeping us safe? There are many other aspects to this question but few satisfying answers. One thing is certain, however; there must be trust between relevant stakeholders.
Building trust may seem like an impossible goal, especially considering strained relations between the public and private sectors in the last year. Through the OAS’ work in the region, we have learned that trust is built piecemeal through small but sustained actions between strategic actors for mutual benefits. Even when dealing with a topic as sensitive as cyber security, the OAS model has shown that by exchanging knowledge at the technical level consensus and cooperation can be forged between countries that are often not in agreement. Similarly, the OAS has led some of its Member States to build agreement between governments, the private sector, and civil society through initiatives like the World Economic Forum’s Partnering for Cyber Resilience campaign. There are no doubt other institutions with similarly successful models, but this one has brought significant benefits for the Americas.
Let us consider that while we slowly hash out security arrangements and try to repair strained relationships, cyber criminals see opportunities. They find and expertly exploit gaps in our mismatched and conflicting policies and standards. Language barriers do not seem to stop hackers at all, yet governments struggle in communicating and cooperating with the private sector.
Now more than ever, we need to build and maintain a culture of trust. We know that trust can’t be forced and it can’t be bought. Rather, it needs to be cultivated and nurtured, and grown over time. In this equation, both government and the private sector have the responsibility to build trust with the other.
We all know that cyber threats are not going away. And ignorance is no longer an excuse. To beat the never-ending march of cyber threats, we must align our policies and bring all relevant stakeholders together to talk with each other. We must step toward the future, unified and assured that we are doing all we can to defeat those trying to exploit digital our digital advances. Leaders of business, government and citizens must work together to protect and enhance our hyperconnected world. Our future development, our growing economies, and the well-being of our societies depend on it.