Imagine it’s lunchtime in Manhattan. Hundreds of thousands of people are leaving their desks to visit their favorite eatery and enjoy a short time away from the office. Suddenly, elevators across the city grind to a halt and a significant percentage of New York’s workforce is trapped.
After too many hours, the overwhelmed emergency responders are finally able to free everyone and declare that elevator service has returned to normal. An investigation attributes the incident to cybercrime: Malware was installed in the test program of a major elevator company and subsequently triggered by a software update.
Meanwhile, countless hours of productivity have been lost, impacting profits and share prices. At the same time, public confidence has taken a severe blow, with millions wondering what other infrastructure or key installations might fall into cybercriminals’ hands next.
Fiction Becomes Reality
It’s a fictional scenario — for now — but it is by no means the stuff of fantasy. In fact, as the recent high-profile WannaCry and NotPetya attacks have demonstrated, nothing is immune to cybercrime. Transit systems and power grids have already fallen victim to fraudsters. If we want to prevent this list from growing and ensure that hypothetical attacks remain hypothetical, we need to answer a key question: Who exactly is responsible?
Going back to our earlier example, who is responsible for protecting Manhattan’s elevators from a cyberattack? Is it the elevator company that handles their physical maintenance? Is it the landlord who owns the buildings? Or is it New York City, which already has binding standards in place to guarantee physical safety? Should the city be setting cybersecurity guidelines too? For now, we have no answer.
Cybercriminals have long made a mockery of national borders. Their reach extends to any country. In a world where digital connections are, by definition, international, the lines on a map have become meaningless. The world is slowly waking up to this reality, and there is a growing recognition of the need for governments to cooperate and combine their cybersecurity expertise. However, the same collaborative maxim must now be applied across the traditional boundaries between public and private sectors, as well as government and business.
Cybercrime Doesn’t Discriminate
Although governments are clearly involved in the private sector to varying degrees, too many maintain a rigid distinction. Companies are keen to closely guard their information. But in today’s world, where everything is interlinked, it is largely a false distinction. For example, a breach of the government’s energy department will likely expose major energy providers. Similarly, if the health department is infiltrated, hospitals and clinics will surely be put at risk. Such division between public and private business helps nobody when it comes to fighting cybercrime.
In fact, these are precisely the gaps that cybercriminals look to exploit. They understand that a weakness in one entity’s defenses is an open door to causing maximum damage elsewhere. Fraudsters often breach the private sector hoping to migrate chaos to the public sector and vice versa.
Clearly, a wholly different outlook is required when it comes to the cyber boundaries between government and business. Put simply, they are on the same side and must work together toward the same ends. Cybercriminals make no distinction between the private and public sectors, so why should we?
This does not mean that boundaries between the two should vanish completely. However, to get the better of cybercriminals, these lines must be blurred. There needs to be far greater synchronization to formulate methodologies, procedures and best practices that can help protect government agencies and businesses. This means sharing relevant information and establishing common security standards.
The public and private sectors can help to plug each other’s cybersecurity holes. Blurring the superficial boundaries that currently exist is a necessary prerequisite to preventing the type of doomsday scenarios that could otherwise easily become reality.
It is up to government officials and political leaders to drive administrative networks and private enterprises closer together. In doing so, they can ensure a more secure future in which nobody is left — metaphorically or otherwise — stranded in the elevator.