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  1. Spotlight on Policy
1 November 2019updated 09 Sep 2021 4:05pm

Protecting the connected world

How can organisations stay safe in an increasingly digitised world?

By Kevin Brown

The modern world revolves around communication – between individuals, between families and between colleagues. At BT we are proud of the role our technology plays in connecting people, and with a network covering 180 countries, we are placing the United Kingdom at the heart of the world’s digital economy.

However, technology and our customers’ needs are constantly changing. The next generation of networks will need to meet unprecedented challenges, handling exponentially more data than anything that has come before. They’ll need to deliver 4K, 8K and later 16k television seamlessly, whilst simultaneously acting as an invisible hub for billions of interconnected devices.

They’ll also be transporting a hugely diverse range of data – from critical communications for national infrastructure and emergency services, through to the data from your kettle, your car or the sensors your city uses to monitor air pollution. This information will provide actionable insights into almost every aspect of daily life, presenting millions of opportunities to improve communities and build new businesses.

Tomorrow’s networks will play a critical role in our society, becoming even more integral to our lives, our businesses and to national success. The opportunities are huge. But so are the challenges. If everything is carried over the network, that network needs to be fast, flexible and built with security at its heart. To do that, we’re leveraging our own world-leading research division, the BT Labs. The same teams who perfected fibreoptics, the technology that underpins all global communications today, are now focused on the challenges of tomorrow.

We are turning that expertise into action, to keep our customers safe in an increasingly dangerous digital world. This year we’ve launched the world’s first commercial grade quantum test network, the foundation for a whole new generation of ultra-secure network technologies.

Our AI-powered cyber defence tools are helping us to identify and even predict threats before they happen, securing our networks against 4,000 attempted cyberattacks every day. And we are developing new technologies that allow our security experts from across the globe to collaborate in real time using fully immersive Virtual Reality Security Operations Centres.

Through our next generation networks, cutting-edge research and world-class security, BT is providing a crucial role in connecting and protecting the networks of the future.

How do you keep a global network safe and secure in an increasingly digitised world?

Technology is evolving and so is crime. As such it is important to stay vigilant and work on a strategy of continuous improvement. Cyber resilience – accepting that a breach is a likely eventuality and preparing for it accordingly – has rightly supplanted the traditional understanding of cyber security for many organisations. This
is not a defeatist outlook; it is simply a realistic one.

But that’s not to say that organisations should simply wait around to be attacked. They should still do everything they can to avoid a breach if possible. Regular and rigorous penetration testing is a good habit to get into. Is the organisation’s hardware and software up to date? Are staff well trained and cyber aware?

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are technologies that can be used to automate some aspects of cyber resilience. As the speed of networks and data volumes grow, monitoring processes have to become more automated so that they can ensure the network is running smoothly while human experts concentrate on the more complex actions relating to security. The idea isn’t necessarily for AI technologies to replace human insight, but rather to enhance it.

What are the main things that organisations should keep in mind when thinking about security?
Security is never fully solved, and you cannot simply buy your way out of security risk. It is therefore vital that organisations do not become complacent. A “zero trust” mindset – being healthily sceptical of an organisation’s security provision while extensively vetting any interaction with external partners is a must-have for businesses in the modern world.

While some organisations may hesitate about committing to the costs of cyber security and resilience provision, it is worth noting that these are tiny compared to the huge costs of recovery that can be incurred in the event of a breach without protection. Cyber resilience is an investment well worth making.

What practical steps can individuals and organisations take to improve their cyber security?

It is important for organisations to understand their assets and priorities. Being able to protect valuable data is not only crucial for the day-to-day operation of a business, but because it has a direct bearing on that organisation’s wider reputation.

For all the new technologies, people and behaviours are still often targeted as a major vulnerability in any organisation. Training staff in good cyber hygiene, whether this is something as simple as getting them to change their passwords regularly or being on the lookout for spoof or spam emails, will pay dividends in the long run.

Kevin Brown is managing director at BT Security.

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