How is cyber security supporting sustainability?

by Suid Adeyanju

When you think of sustainability, cyber security probably doesn’t spring to mind as one of the industries on the front line. But every single industry has a part to play in protecting the future of our planet and its inhabitants, and cyber security is no exception.

As our world becomes increasingly connected and our digital economy continues to grow, cyber security is a concern for every business. From data breaches to ransomware, cyber security incidences both malicious and unintentional have spiked since the global pandemic forced more of our lives online.

Demand for cyber security services has soared as a result, making cyber security an increasingly significant player across every industry across the world.

Of course, we all want to deliver for our customers, but as a professional community, we also need to consider our wider impact; because we’re all in this together.

So how exactly does cyber security contribute to making the world a better place for all—and what can we as cyber security professionals be doing better?

Sustainability is all about using resources responsibly, consuming enough to meet the needs of today while also making sure that those same resources will still be available in the future.

While cyber security doesn’t utilise resources in the same way as more traditional, product-focused industries, we can still operate with sustainability in mind. Sustainability in cyber security means working in a way that minimises risk and cost for today’s businesses, while ensuring our practices will remain effective tomorrow.

Like many organisations, we at RiverSafe are striving to align ourselves with the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Built on decades of work by both individual countries and the UN, including the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, these goals provide a shared blueprint for the betterment of our world across a range of intersectional fronts.

Adopted by all UN member states in 2015, the goals push for a united approach to tackling an array of global issues, from poverty and access to education, to climate change and gender inequality.

Let’s take a look at how cyber security fits in to some of these key goals.

Goal 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.

Technology is an essential factor in driving innovation and supporting the growth of industries, including those traditionally considered “low-tech”.

As we’ve all seen over the past few years, access to technology helps businesses adapt to change, build resiliency, and weather all kinds of economic storms. High-technology manufacturing companies, for example, have recovered far more effectively from the impact of Covid-19 than their lower-tech peers.

But of course, if more businesses are to benefit from adopting innovative digital products and services, that technology needs to be secure. Cyber security measures are vital to protect the information and communication technologies that support industrialisation, as well as the infrastructure that underpins them.

Although large businesses will be stung for an average of $1,000,000 per cyber security breach, cyber attacks can be particularly damaging for small businesses. An estimated 60% of impacted organisations go bust within six months of an incident, causing substantial damage not only to economic growth and stability, but also to job numbers and social mobility.

This need also extends to fostering climate progress. As we transition to a more sustainable energy infrastructure, we become more vulnerable to the digital exploitation of our most precious resources. Take the 2021 attack on U.S. oil company Colonial, for example, in which an attack on the digital equipment that manages its pipeline brought supply to a halt for six days, and cost the organisation $4.4 million in ransom money alone.

The more our industry can do to democratise access to its services, and promote best practices, the faster the world can achieve this goal of bringing innovation, resiliency, and opportunity to all.

Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

Unsustainable consumption and production is a major contributor to climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. And electronic waste is a big part of it.

Around 54 million tonnes of electronic devices including phones and computers are produced every year, but just 17% is thought to be recycled. There’s already too much e-waste being generated, and the amount is set to double by 2050 if sufficient action isn’t taken. To make matters worse, just a fraction of this waste is being safely managed, creating potentially toxic waste and putting people’s health at risk.

Cyber security organisations can work toward achieving responsible consumption and production by powering servers and data centres with renewable energy, supporting the right to repair, and reducing unnecessary tech waste through reuse and recycling.

Goal 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Cyber attacks are an increasingly significant threat to the stability of our society. Over the past few years, we’ve watched cyber attacks on our critical infrastructure, financial networks, healthcare, and other networked systems cause chaos and disruption.

Last year, cyber criminals brought financial operations across Costa Rica to their knees by attacking the country’s Ministry of Finance. The attack capsized Costa Rica’s import/export business, triggering the declaration of the world’s first ransomware-related national emergency. The UK’s National Health Service suffered major outages when one of its MSPs was targeted, and corporate giants including Microsoft, Samsung, and Uber all fell victim to cyber attacks or data breaches.

Whether motivated by organised crime or geopolitical hostility, these kinds of attacks threaten our security, our economy, and our human rights—often creating a long-lasting impact that undermines our ability to look after our world and its people.

As companies, vital public organisations and governments alike expand their online footprint—and in turn, their intangible value—the vector for potential attacks gets larger, and so does the risk.

By implementing strong cyber security measures, organisations can help protect our essential infrastructure and our economic security from cybercrime, promoting peace, justice, and strong institutions in the process.

Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development.

As we know, there’s no silver bullet when it comes to cyber security. Keeping digital assets safe requires understanding and cooperation at every level, between companies, governments, and individuals.

One of the aims of Goal 17 is to continue to increase the number of people across the globe that are able to use the internet. The percentage of those going online increased from 54% in 2019 to 63% in 2021—the more people that can get online, the more valuable information and services can be disseminated.

By working together with those that use technology, and those that determine the policies that govern it, we can identify and address the cyber security challenges that impact sustainability, and develop solutions that support the achievement of the UN’s sustainability goals.

What we’re doing to accomplish these goals

At RiverSafe, we’re paving the way in creating sustainable cyber security practices. We’ve put sustainability at the heart of our business strategy and seek to help other businesses move into the next decade of sustainable security transformation.

That’s why, as part of our Corporate Social Responsibility strategy, we’re working on creating a CISO community on behalf of a renowned NGO, using our connections and expertise to recruit a network.

This volunteer community will be made up of a variety of skills and years of experience to aid this non-profit’s security efforts. RiverSafe is proud to lead this network and hopes to develop similar initiatives for other worthwhile causes. If you would like to get involved in this, please contact us.

Our work has already earned us Silver status for the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, through an independent analysis from Earth 51. The report measures our operations against the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and found RiverSafe to have achieved business excellence on 10. Not content to rest on our laurels, we’re now actively working to meet the UN’s Gold standard.

As cyber security leaders it is crucial we ensure sustainability is at the heart of our business strategy to ensure we are able to protect our world. You can find more information on the UN’s sustainability goals here

By Suid Adeyanju