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WORLD | Jun 4, 2022

Barbara Maigret | Addressing cybersecurity and climate change for a sustainable society

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Barbara Maigret, global head of sustainability & CSR at Fortinet. (Photo contributed)

—Article by Barbara Maigret, global head of sustainability & CSR at Fortinet 

Our society faces significant challenges that must be addressed quickly to prevent disruptions that can threaten lives. The first is climate change, which poses a risk to our physical planet.

According to the  World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2022 Global Risks report, the current climate crisis remains humanity’s most significant long-term challenge.

The second is cybersecurity, which has become a broad sustainability issue, threatening our evolving connected society and the digital economy on which individuals, organisations, and nations now rely.

While these issues may seem starkly different, according to the “Declaration for the Future of the Internet” (recently issued by the United States and more than 60 signatory countries and partners), technology plays a critical role in “the fight against global climate change,” which, in turn, makes securing technology even more urgent.

Fortunately, the approaches to addressing these challenges are remarkably similar. They include changing behaviors, funding innovation, establishing strict and enforceable regulations, and encouraging collaboration across industries and interests.

Motivating behavioural change through qwareness

One of the most significant barriers to addressing these challenges is human nature. So, the first step to addressing these issues is to change behaviors, and that is done through awareness. 

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Knowledge helps people understand the causes and consequences of global warming and encourages them to change their behavior. A recent survey queried more than 3,000 people in eight countries about their awareness of climate change. Even during the pandemic, 76 per cent of respondents reported that environmental issues were the same or more concerning than health issues. And 70 per cent said they were more aware now than before COVID-19 that human activity threatens the climate and that the degradation of the environment threatens humans. They also expressed a commitment to changing their behavior to support a sustainability strategy. The most vital step in the fight against cyberattacks is improving our first line of defense. According to the 2021 Verizon Data Breach Investigations report, 85 per cent of data breaches involve human error. Opening a malicious email attachment, forgetting to change the password, misconfiguring a device, or failing to patch or update a device are still the most common ways for attackers to breach a network. Providing a workforce with the latest information about specific threats to the company and clearly explaining their essential role in protecting against them – both at work and at home – are vital for securing corporate networks and keeping users safe online.  

Fighting climate change and cybersecurity risks through innovation

Technology plays a crucial role in helping retool the systems and infrastructure needed to achieve and maintain a sustainable society.

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Green technology innovation in all sectors and renewable energy sources are essential to addressing the global challenge of climate change. According to the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, technology has the potential to contribute to all 17 goals of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Technology and innovation have the power to implement climate transformation and address the critical challenges of climate change. New IoT technologies are being distributed globally to improve data-driven decision-making to increase energy efficiency, amplify the effectiveness of “green” technologies such as wind power and bioenergy, and further reduce our dependence on coal-based electricity generation. As our society accelerates its dependence on technology to ensure a sustainable future, cybersecurity becomes mission-critical. Cybersecurity vendors must develop solutions that can keep up with technological advances and address how today’s businesses, governments, and individuals use technology. For example, to scale and adapt to today’s rapidly evolving digital world, cybersecurity is learning to apply advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyse massive volumes of data to detect sophisticated breaches and unusual network activity. It is also having to consolidate solutions so automation can be better leveraged to accelerate threat response time. 

Enforcing climate change and cybersecurity through regulations

Regulations and international standards are necessary to drive a change in behaviors, especially if we hope to affect that change in the limited timeframe available.

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To ensure progress is being made consistently, global frameworks are essential. The Taskforce on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) has become a worldwide standard for consistent climate-related financial risk disclosures. Companies, banks, and investors use it to provide sustainability information to stakeholders. The Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), due to go live in 2023, requires all large companies to report on their social and environmental impact. And in the United States, the SEC draft rule, which requires public companies to disclose extensive climate-related information in their SEC filings starting in the fiscal year 2023. These and similar measures put teeth in the more generic agreements governments have adopted, like the Paris Agreement. A unified set of practices and regulations serves as a shared map and reference point for organisations looking to secure digital infrastructures. Widely accepted guidelines for cybersecurity, such as NIST and ISO 27000 certification standards, help organizations implement best practices and technologies. On the other side, regulations like GDPR and HIPAA ensure data privacy, protect personally identifiable information (PII), and force organisations to report on breaches. These standards are vital for ensuring that security requirements are consistently met using best practices and compliant solutions. Current and proposed regulations are designed to have the same effect as those targeting climate change. 

Addressing climate change and cybersecurity through collaboration

In an age of specialisation, we must develop private-public partnerships to help us more effectively address climate change, cybersecurity, and other emerging challenges.

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As clearly highlighted during COP26 (the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference), saving the planet from climate change will not be possible without close partnerships between governments, NGOs, the private sector, and the public. A collective effort will be necessary if we are to meet global temperature and emissions reduction goals set by the Paris Agreement, new regulatory and compliance requirements, and the UN’s 17 SGDs.The arms race with cybercriminals also can’t be won without global collaboration. Vendors, businesses, public agencies, and governments all have a role to play, whether through local coalitions, national organisations, or international forums. Disrupting cybercrime activities and dismantling the attack infrastructure is a joint responsibility that requires strong, trusted relationships between public and private organizations. 


A logo of the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting is pictured on a window in Davos, Switzerland, January 21, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File)

As leaders from around the world get together at Davos to discuss the critical issues that are impacting the sustainability of our planet and society, they must consider both climate change and cybersecurity as integral to enabling a better future for all.

While each has its unique challenges, they also increasingly overlap as our digital and physical worlds continue to converge. Addressing one necessarily impacts the other.

If enough people switch to renewable energy, enough businesses take the necessary precautions to protect their systems and data, and enough governments take efforts to level the digital playing field, we can make our world sustainable.


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