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Cybersecurity in the era of Big Data and hyperconnectivity

Milan, 24/11/2016, Meeting for the Friends of Aspen

In recent years the development of a "hyperconnected society" has altered the everyday lives of vast numbers of people, providing great opportunities but also posing considerable threats to the privacy and security of both citizens and enterprises.  The problem, which is not confined to Italy alone, is the lack of a real awareness of these dangers.  Those most exposed to cyber threats include small and medium enterprises, which find themselves in a very difficult situation: even if they possess cutting-edge technologies in their respective sectors, they often lack the necessary skills to protect themselves from computer attacks or the theft of patented designs and sensitive data.

This problem is exacerbated by the difficulties encountered by the security forces and the judiciary in countering these phenomena: on the one hand the law is unable to keep pace with technological change and innovation; and on the other hand the organizations tasked with combating computer crime often lack adequate resources and the same freedom of action enjoyed by those who perpetrate computer crimes, protected by the anonymity of the Web.

A solution to this problem cannot be expected from individuals but depends on an all-embracing approach.  First and foremost – and particularly in a country such as Italy, where IT has been managed at the lowest possible cost for years - work needs to be done to improve the awareness and training of both citizens and enterprises.  The next step is to analyze the vulnerabilities confronting enterprises especially.  One particular aspect relates to systems and procedures that may suffer weaknesses - partly at the software level - that could grant access to unwelcome intruders.  Another aspect is the actual location of sensitive data.  Indeed, though the advent of cloud computing may help firms in terms of security (the major cloud servers are indeed more secure than any domestic or business storage systems,) it shifts sensitive data to the countries where the servers are located, with the consequent transfer of "intelligence" to major processing centers abroad.

All these challenges are becoming crucially important with the advent of industry 4.0.  Technological "hyper-connection" cannot take place in factories unless proper attention is paid to security.  There is a danger that a technological transition on such a scale will create major security problems in sectors that have hitherto been only marginally affected by the cyber security issue.  Furthermore the increasing convergence between the digital world and the real world, through the spread of the Internet of objects (IoT,) creates a link between computer security and the physical security of people and objects, whether industrial machinery or medical equipment.

Because of the particular and global characteristics of cyberspace, this creates a situation in which no one player - even a state - can act alone.  The key problem is the cyber security governance gap, a challenge in which Italy can make a very major contribution, at the next G7, thanks to its enterprises' technological expertise.