COVID-19, Cyber Security and the “New Normal”

It is hard not to see tech, security and privacy coming out stronger.

As we all struggle with lockdown conditions and the impact the COVID-19 crisis is having on our lives and our businesses, one sentiment seems to prevail: The sense that – somehow – life after the coronavirus will not return exactly to “what it used to be”.

Discussions and commentaries abound on what that “new normal” will be like, but they all bump across the same hurdle: The time horizon towards which they are looking cannot really be defined right now.

Frankly, at the minute, the only certainty is still uncertainty, and there are just too many scenarios and too much unknown to plan ahead properly, unless you are prepared to consider a seriously multi-threaded strategy: Will lockdown exit scenarios be successful? Will there be further outbreaks and how will governments react? When will free movement of people resume? Locally? Nationally? Internationally? How long does natural immunity actually last and when will a vaccine be ready or deployed? As they stand, will governments rescue plans be sufficient? How many businesses will go bankrupt regardless? Etc…

Nobody can really see beyond the few weeks ahead, and that paralyses – rightly – any mid- to long-term decision making in most businesses. In addition, most have had to take drastic cash conservation measures, with – amongst other measures – many top executives agreeing to major pay cuts, while numbers of staff go on paid or unpaid leave. Money is scarce for many and could be for a long time.

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But from a technology and cyber security perspective, there are three lessons already emerging:

Remote working works

First, from a technology perspective, the large scale remote working experiment we are having to endure is simply working: Platforms have scaled, and networks have not collapsed. We may or may not like it, but we are starting to adjust to new ways of interacting. More generally, the digital economy has successfully scaled up at pace and the COVID-19 crisis has dramatically accelerated the digital transformation of many sectors. It is impossible to say what the long-term impact will be (e.g. to what extent will we continue to work from home), but this is bound to bring a positive outlook for the tech industry at large.

Cyber security is critical

Second, over the last six weeks and in the face of countless scams and fraud attempts, we have had in front of us the largest real-life cyber security awareness campaign anyone could ever have imagined, and this is bound to have a significant cultural impact on people, in particular, if the lockdown continues or comes back. Cyber security has had to be on the agenda, as a necessary dimension of lives and business activities now entirely dependent on digital services. Nobody can risk a cyber-attack right now, and good cyber security measures have become key to keeping the lights on. One cannot imagine cyber security moving down the priority list with senior executives post-COVID.

Privacy concerns are being re-enforced

Finally, privacy has not gone off the radar. If anything, the debate around digital contact tracing and the use of mobile apps has re-ignited the public interest around personal data and state surveillance. One can argue about the timeliness of all that and the need for exceptional measures during exceptional times, but it remains a sign of healthy democracies that it’s taking place. Where it will leave pre-existing regulations such as GDPR or CCPA – and how it will impact the long-term role and credibility of privacy regulators – remains open for debate, but that’s another matter.

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Nobody really knows what the “new normal” will be like and when – and how – the dust will settle. But it is hard not to see tech, security and privacy coming out stronger.

 

Jean-Christophe Gaillard

• A senior executive and a team builder motivated by analysing and resolving Security Strategy, Organisation and Governance challenges, and delivering real long-term solutions • A track-record at driving fundamental change in the Security field across global organisations, looking beyond the technical horizon into strategy, governance, culture, and the real dynamics of transformation • Over 25 years of experience developed in several global financial institutions in the UK and continental Europe, gaining exposure to all layers of management up to board level • French national permanently established in the UK since 1993; fluent in English, Spanish & French Specialties: Security Strategy, Organisation and Governance ; Security Roadmaps, Target Operating Models and Governance Frameworks ; Business Protection ; Corporate Security ; Information Security ; Cyber Security ; Operational Risk Management

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