Spotlight Leader: A cyber imperative

How to protect life and work online.

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Towards the end of November, Manchester United made headlines not because of their prowess on the pitch, but because the club had become the latest target for hackers. A full week after the 20 November cyber attack on the Premier League club, staff still could not access their emails. Manchester United said it was not “aware of any breach of personal data associated with our fans and customers”, and had not confirmed – at the time of writing – whether the hackers had demanded a ransom.

Meanwhile, in London a “serious cyber attack” on Hackney Council in October was still causing “significant disruption” to services a month later.

Read more: The politics of technological progress

These are only two out of millions of such attacks over the past year. One of the themes of the coronavirus pandemic has been a spike in cybercrime. In August the UN reported a 350 per cent jump in phishing websites in the first quarter of 2020. Many of them targeted hospitals and healthcare systems.

The arc of progress was bending towards the digital before the pandemic, but, as has been repeated ad infinitum, the shift has proceeded at warp speed since Covid-19 upended the world. As is being borne out by the data, this fast pace has come with serious risks to the cyber security of nations, citizens and businesses.

Read more: How to work from home safely during a crisis

As has also been repeated ad infinitum, the rise of remote and hybrid working has increased system vulnerabilities. The move of many businesses to e-commerce in a bid to survive the effects of Covid-19 restrictions has brought economic benefits, but has been accompanied by risk, too.

Tools for detecting and responding to attacks have grown more advanced as attackers become more sophisticated. Artificial intelligence is a double-edged sword. But the key remains, perhaps, in the mundane: raising general awareness of “cyber hygiene”. As our lives become increasingly connected with the online world – from work, to accessing government services, to making toast – awareness of cyber risk is not something any organisation can afford to leave just to the experts.

This article originally appeared a Spotlight report on cyber security. You can download the full edition here.

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