As information technology and the internet become integral parts of our daily lives, being secure and confident are one of the essential ingredients of individual happiness.
The advance of technology has been at root a quest to improve a lot of humanity. Investment in intelligent nations and cities is essentially the pursuit of one goal; enabling access to information and tasks to be performed more quickly and efficiently in order to make people’s lives easier, and by inference happier.
In the decades ahead, we are likely to see this trend expand even further, as information technology is embedded into every aspect of our daily lives, enabling us to shorten once time-consuming tasks, and be better informed about every aspect of our life from our health to our working schedule.
However, this unprecedented interconnectedness comes with risks. In the world before networked technology, simple threats could be isolated and contained. Intelligent cities, however, thrive because of their very interlinked nature; the dark side of this interconnectedness is a vulnerability. Interconnectedness leaves smart cities and the citizens who live in them vulnerable to cascading threats.
When chaos theory was being popularised at the end of the last century, the “Butterfly Effect” was often cited. The idea that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil might, through the complex interaction of weather systems, generate a hurricane on the other side of the world.
Smart cities, and indeed modern civilisations, equally face vulnerability as a consequence of the growing level of interconnectivity and interdependence. Monitoring and control systems may be able to understand traffic flow patterns and adjust energy distribution as required, but the same systems, if hijacked by a malicious hacker, can be used to generate chaos.
Disabling of traffic lights or the shutdown of a power station can generate a wide range of secondary effects, which can often spread far beyond the immediate impact of the initial incident.
A city can still be successful without a beach, or a metro network, or an international airport, but it is impossible for it to be successful without robust digital networks, which can be relied upon to work reliably.
The price to be paid for cyber security breaches is no longer being counted in just monetary terms or dented reputations, but in lives lost and families devastated. In many respects, cyber security is the single most critical issue facing the world today.
Technology has evolved to a point that the ‘happiness’ we have been able to achieve over the decades through automation and intelligence may effectively be undone if our technological environment is not protected from corruption and abuse.
Nor are threats confined to the city level. We all store, deliberately or through our browsing and consumption habits, vast amounts of personal information online. Should this environment be breached and exploited, it leaves many of US Open to everything from criminal manipulation to theft and potentially reputational damage.
As we are aware of many aspects of our life; remaining happy is harder than pursuing happiness in the first place. If we are to guarantee future happiness, we need to think about security holistically, embedding it routinely into our hardware, networks, and habits. Cyber security isn’t just an addition to our everyday lives; it’s a vital part of securing our current and future happiness; which is what organisations such as ours are attempting to do — protecting the future by securing its technologies.
The writer is the Chief Executive Officer of DarkMatter.