Like any tech industry entrepreneur, I love technology and have since I was just 10 years old. Technology has allowed us to do absolutely incredible things on a global scale and has improved our way of life exponentially on a day-to-day level. Yet with all the benefits a more technology-rich and interconnected life brings, it also exposes us to risk as bad actors increasingly seek to take advantage of that interconnectivity. Every day, consumers benefitting from the increasingly digital world are also the ones who most often fall victim.
In the U.S. alone, 143 million consumers — more than half the adult population that is active online — were victims of cybercrime last year, according to the 2017 Norton Cyber Security Insights Report. U.S. consumers’ losses totaled $19.4 billion, and, on average, each victim lost nearly 20 hours dealing with the fallout.
These alarming stats make one thing clear: Cybersecurity literacy and readiness are lacking when they need to be growing. Unlike big companies with IT departments and resources dedicated to protecting cybersecurity, many consumers aren’t tech savvy and have little understanding of the complex world of cyberattacks, let alone what to do to combat them. To meet and withstand today’s online threats, consumers don’t just need better cybersecurity technology — they need realistic solutions. They need solutions that account for the ways they use their technology — on their computers, their phones and in the interconnected devices all around them. They need solutions that they understand and feel comfortable using. They need solutions that work.
Technology leaders, those of us with the skills and capacity to do something, need to pay more attention to people and how they use technology to design solutions that better confront the human element of cybersecurity. We also need to improve awareness of digital security threats by making technology and cybersecurity literacy easier and more accessible for everyone.
Considering The Human Element
Fraud and cybercrime are extremely common and can take on a wide variety of forms, from obvious scams to sophisticated and highly personalized attacks. Often, the subtle cause behind a security breach is human error (e.g., using a weak password, clicking a suspicious link, failing to download security updates, etc.).
As consumers become more and more comfortable making purchases, paying bills and sharing sensitive personal information online through digital interactions with their health care providers, financial services institutions and government entities, human factors can become serious vulnerabilities. Take passwords, for example. While we know that complex, frequently changed passwords are more secure, the distinctly human tendency to prioritize efficiency and convenience leads many to take shortcuts like using weak passwords because they are easy to remember or applying the same passwords to everything.
Cyberattackers rely heavily on user interaction and normal human behaviors like complacency and a desire for efficiency and convenience. Consumers need solutions that help make it easy for them to be more secure, ones that don’t ignore but rather embrace these human tendencies because security shouldn’t be a burden — it should be built in.
Developing Realistic Solutions
We can’t change human nature, but we can change technology to cut down on the shockingly high number of consumers who fall victim to an attack. All too often, people assume that if they’re using their phones, their desktops at work, the wearable devices on their wrists or their voice-enabled devices on their kitchen countertops that they’re safe. They don’t think twice. We need to design solutions that 1) educate consumers about the threats that exist as they interact with this technology, 2) empower them with the tools they need and 3) make it easy for them to use those tools.
I hate to use a cliché, but knowledge actually is power when it comes to staying safe in our interconnected world. If consumers know about potential threats to unsecured or outdated internet of things devices, understand how malware or ransomware can infiltrate a computer through an unwitting click of a link and have insight into password hacks, they’ll naturally be more equipped to avoid them. Software developers have an opportunity to build education into and around their technology as an extra line of defense.
When it comes to the technology itself, we often jump straight into complex software development without stopping to think about the natural tendencies of the consumers using that tech. Security doesn’t need to be overwhelming and scary. As technology leaders, we have a responsibility to make it much easier for consumers to both understand cybersecurity threats and take steps to make the digital world safer for themselves and their families. That means committing to rethinking and simplifying product design to account for human factors, with more mobile, user-friendly designs, better interfaces and more engaging, accessible content.
The best way for consumers to confront cybersecurity threats and prevent the damage associated with a security breach is to be prepared with the proper knowledge and smart tools.
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