Digital dilemmas and cyber security


Posted on: January 24, 2020 by John Hall

It is amazing just how dependent people have become on digital technology – and I don’t just mean our love affair with smartphones. Businesses, governments and societies at large can no longer operate effectively without the instant connections that new technologies offer.

Yet while the benefits of these are vast, so are the risks. We have only to consider the impacts of even short-term IT failures in banking, airport baggage or electricity power grid systems to catch a glimpse of the vulnerabilities we now face in our everyday lives.

Art of the permissible

Digital interactions are becoming inherently more open, collaborative and interdependent. At the same time, trust has become one of the single biggest factors in the adoption of digital systems: trust both in the operational resilience of systems and in the integrity of underlying processes and data. Establishing and maintaining this trust is an increasingly complex challenge at the heart of the cyber security agenda.

In 2018, the Atos Scientific Community published our new vision for technology in business and society in the paper, Journey 2022. This introduced the concept of ‘digital dilemmas’ that arise when technology advances at such a rate that the digital ‘art of the possible’ is no longer aligned to the real-world ‘art of the permissible’. These dilemmas often relate directly to cyber security risks: yes, it is possible, for instance, to connect billions of objects via the Internet of Things, but should that ever be done without the assurance that malicious actors won’t be able to hack into them? Taking control of a connected fridge may not pose too extreme a threat, but an autonomous vehicle or smart medical implant are completely different prospects.

Emerging dilemmas

There are plenty more examples. How can we be assured of the provenance of digitalized news stories, digital evidence submitted in court, personal credentials or digital currency, to name but a few? As the world becomes more digitalized, the growing and changing potential ‘attack surface’ demands a rethink of cyber security if businesses and governments are to avoid user distrust or even rejection of particular digital solutions.

But how far might this extend, and does this automated approach create its own set of digital dilemmas? Is it acceptable to anticipate criminal behavior and act on that insight? Could we be running the risk of a dystopia of the kind seen in the film, Minority Report, where technology is used to identify individuals as criminals even before any crime is committed?

Resolving the tensions

Insights from data analytics can reveal much about human and machine behaviors and threats, but at what point might they be seen as personally invasive by encroaching on individuals’ data privacy rights? Who sets the boundaries of acceptability and how can security remain effective when cyber criminals have access to the same digital technologies but do not operate to the same ethical standards?

To build and maintain essential trust, it is clear that we must address the balance between ‘could we?’ and ‘should we?’. Journey 2022 called for a recognition and resolution of the tensions between the digital and physical worlds to build fairness into digital business models: to ensure, for example, that society approaches data insights and automation in a way that respects human rights.

Digital Vision for Cyber Security 2

Atos’ Digital Vision for Cyber Security 2 brings you insights into the latest challenges and opportunities for business leaders and influencers – and the critical role of cyber security to underpin transformation and vital trust in our digital society.

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About John Hall

Head of Strategy & Portfolio Atos UK&I; Editor in Chief for the Atos Scientific Community and member of the Scientific Community
John is a chartered Engineer with more than 30 years cross-industry IT and General Management experience in the Energy, Industry and Public Sectors. Having fulfilled a variety of roles including IT management, Programme & Account management and Operations management, John is now responsible for the strategy and governance underpinning the Atos UK&I portfolio of products and services. A member of the Atos Scientific Community, John is involved in all aspects of Innovation and thought leadership with regard to using business technology to address the current and future challenges faced by organisations . He has a particular focus on developing the strategy and go-to-market approach for digital transformation and disruptive technologies, with a particular focus on Hybrid cloud, Industrial Data Platforms, blockchain and the Gig economy. Married with 3 children, based in NW England. Enjoys rock climbing and running.

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