How to reduce the carbon footprint of your cybersecurity operations

by Suid Adeyanju

5 ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your cybersecurity operations

Cybersecurity is an essential consideration for every business. But so is sustainability. Check out our tips on making your cybersecurity efforts greener.

Cybersecurity is critically important to the sustainability of any organisation. Without a robust, proactive cybersecurity posture, businesses leave themselves vulnerable to potential data breaches and the rising tide of cybercrime. Digital assets must be properly protected for companies of all shapes and sizes to remain secure, competitive, and viable.

But what about the sustainability of our planet? Technology has the potential to make our lives easier across multiple fronts. It helps us be more productive, more efficient, and more connected. But all of these benefits come at a cost.

The environmental impact of cybersecurity

Every facet of cloud technology has a part to play in reducing energy consumption and creating a sustainable way of working; one that allows us to utilise cloud tech with minimal damage to the planet. Cybersecurity is no exception.

Legacy cybersecurity solutions require infrastructure, hardware, and resources like electricity to run. Cloud solutions do too, of course, but while cloud-based platforms are generally more eco-friendly, the abstract nature of the cloud can lead to its environmental impact being largely overlooked. That out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude often means businesses don’t prioritise tackling the environmental impact of their cybersecurity operations.

Like any modern resource, the operation of cybersecurity solutions has a carbon footprint. The amount of energy and water consumed by the data centres that power many modern cybersecurity platforms is significant, as are the greenhouse gas emissions that they generate.

Today, data centres are thought to consume around 3% of the world’s electricity, with that percentage set to rise to 8% by 2030. As well as accounting for around 40% of total energy usage, the average data centre’s cooling system can eat up 3-5 million gallons of water every single day. This is roughly the same amount that would be used by a city of up to 50,000 people.

How to reduce your cybersecurity carbon footprint

As more of our world goes online and cyber-attacks become more frequent and sophisticated, we all need to be thinking about how we can safeguard our data and critical infrastructure in a way that’s as sustainable as possible.

Here are a few ways you can make your cybersecurity operations a little greener.

Switch to cloud-based solutions

If you’re still running legacy or on-premise cybersecurity solutions, it could be time to switch to the cloud. Yes, cloud computing consumes resources, but research has found that cloud computing can make organisations up to 98% more energy efficient compared to running an on-premise data centre.

While there’s plenty of scope to make public cloud data centres more climate-friendly, today’s data centres are designed to be more efficient. More data centres are being powered by renewable energy and new technology is being implemented to minimise energy usage, particularly around cooling.

Many of the industry’s biggest names have pledged to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels to feed their data centres, with Google, Microsoft and AWS committing to the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact. The pact sets out goals for data centre operators, including having 75% of energy provided by renewable sources by 2025 and an aim to be completely carbon neutral by 2030.

There’s also a growing effort to replace the diesel-powered backup generators commonly found in data centres with ones that use hydrotreated vegetable oil; a move that can reduce net CO2 emissions by up to 90%.

Choose greener vendors

It’s common practice today for companies to have a public statement about their sustainability efforts and goals, even in cybersecurity.

There are a huge number of factors to consider when choosing a vendor to deliver your cybersecurity tools, and if you want to reduce the impact of your cybersecurity efforts on the planet, sustainability should be one of them.

Look for a vendor with clear commitments to sustainability; those that are taking tangible action to utilise renewables and make their products and services more eco-friendly.

Facilitate secure remote work

With remote work comes a plethora of environmental benefits. Fewer people commuting means lower emissions, reduced consumption of fossil fuels, and better air quality. Then there are the high quantities of energy, supplies and physical resources that offices consume to consider.

Facilitating remote work for your team can make a big difference to your organisation’s carbon footprint, but the only way to make a remote working policy truly sustainable is to make it secure.

Remote work inevitably increases the attack vector for any organisation, multiplying endpoints and introducing new devices to your networks. The better your security posture, the safer and more viable offering remote work to your employees will be. And that all adds up to a more sustainable operation.

Optimise data storage

Data storage accounts for around 11% of the average data centre’s energy use. As we continue to generate unprecedented quantities of data, that percentage is likely to rise.

But we can work to reduce the environmental impact of data storage by managing data more effectively. Cybersecurity platforms, particularly those that monitor and report on events like SIEMs, process and store a lot of data. How that data is stored can make a big impact on an organisation’s carbon footprint.

Cloud storage providers tend to offer a lot of options when it comes to data storage. The more readily accessible the data being stored is, the more expensive that storage class will be. Storage classes designed for data that doesn’t need to be retrieved as quickly will not only be cheaper but also more eco-friendly.

In fact, a lot of the best practices that help manage cloud spending are also useful for reducing environmental impact. So take a good look at your data and consider whether it’s worth the resources it takes to store and process it. Remove any duplicates. And if you do need to keep data, consider moving it to a greener and cheaper storage class.

Rethink and recycle your e-waste

Whether they’re working remotely or from an office, your cybersecurity team will need access to devices and hardware to do their jobs.

You can make your stable of devices more sustainable by choosing devices with low power consumption levels, are made from recyclable or biodegradable materials, or are from a vendor that has a recycling scheme in place to deal with e-waste.

And when hardware comes to the end of its useful life, you can make sure it goes somewhere where it’ll be properly repurposed or reused, rather than thrown away: a practice that generates up to 18 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.

This aspect of sustainable computing is another part of the aforementioned Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact. The pact requires data centres to assess for the reuse, repair, or recycling of 100% of their used server equipment, and hit a target for the repair or reuse of server materials by 2025.

By Suid Adeyanju