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The necessity for better data security in 2021

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Golden Sikorka)

Cybersecurity plays an essential role in protecting us and the digital systems we use on a daily basis. Although technology is rapidly evolving, we are witnessing a vast number of data breaches due to organizations facing minimal charges for poor protection of data and storage. A recent report has stated that cybercrime damage is predicted to hit $6 trillion annually this year, with cyber theft becoming the fastest growing crime in the world, according to Cybersecurity Ventures. As we enter 2021, is it now vital for individuals and organizations to ensure reliable and sophisticated safety measures are in place to help avoid inevitable attacks.

Many of us are embracing digital transformation and criminals are by no means an exception to this trend. Although the internet is a fundamental tool, users can be extremely vulnerable to data security breaches. For example, research has shown that many of these network breaches are caused by email phishing, which has increased by a staggering 350 percent in just one year. Ransomware is also a huge concern, with Malwarebytes showing a 17 percent increase in 2015 compared to a 259 percent increase in 2016, according to a survey report. The ever-growing rise in attacks on hotel chains will only make this problem worse. With the zero day attack market currently flourishing, hotels are a lucrative sector to exploit.

Smarter cybercriminals

Cybercriminals are becoming far more organized and savvy towards consumer behavior patterns. In fact, there are now many cybercrime units that carry out a variety of roles we typically associate with large legitimate businesses. These can include partner networks, associates, resellers, and vendors. In addition to this, dedicated call centers are being used to help with requests from ransomware victims. Of course, there are sophisticated methods such as encryption, dark web forums and other private networks in place to remain anonymous. With franchises that enable other hackers to replicate botnets and vectors of compromise and cybercrime recruit in place, it is safe to say that cybercrime has no-doubt become an industry of its own.

Who should be responsible?

The responsibility for data security threats is broadening. Senior IT management staff should have a more holistic understanding and approach to cybersecurity as an organizational-wide risk issue. They should ensure that there is a lot of focus on the legal and regulatory implications of cyber risks as they relate to a company’s specific circumstances.  This includes identifying which risks to avoid, accept and mitigate as well as specific plans in each case and how these are communicated to senior management.

The importance of employee training

Cybersecurity training should be mandatory for every business as individuals are often the most vulnerable targets. Organizations need to ensure all employees are trained on different security aspects such as phishing and data sharing practices, keeping software updated and unique strong passwords. By thoroughly educating employees on the dangers of clicking just one link, companies are at a much lower risk of being attacked. As of recently, a movement has been carried out within some companies whereby security teams send phishing emails containing fake malware to employees which, when activated, lead them to a site telling them about their mistake. However, this is not sufficient training and employers need to take the matter more seriously – especially if they host valuable trade secrets, personally identifiable information and finance or health data.

Cybersecurity by design

A quick fix could be for organizations to incorporate a 'cybersecurity by design' framework. This could act as a holistic set of pragmatic guidelines on the full remit of protective processes that cope with the ever-present avalanche of cyber threats. Cybersecurity by design provides a number of core principles and ultimately makes detection easier, enabling companies to be more proactive with threats. They can collect all relevant security events and logs, design simple communication flows between components and detect malware command and control communications. All of which will make it difficult for attackers to detect security rules through external testing and simply react to the abnormal traffic more rapidly.

All aspects relating to the protection of data need to be considered. This includes examining security of physical locations and employee access, data storage and backups, network security, compliance and recovery procedures and all IoT devices.  It can be easy to neglect software, but it also needs to be regularly audited and followed by a security architecture survey. This should form part of a larger threat modelling or architecture risk analysis of a company’s infrastructure.

The Solution

A homomorphic cryptosystem is a mathematical operation on ciphertext, which has regular effects on plaintext. A normal symmetric cipher, such as Data Encryption Standard (DES) and Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), are not homomorphic. Here, a plaintext P, encrypted with AES outputs a corresponding ciphertext C. If you multiply that ciphertext by 4, and then decrypt 4C, there would be an incorrect syllable. If it provided something else, like 4P, that would prove a strong non-randomness property of AES. Searchable Symmetric Encryption, however, is a recent solution for fully processing encrypted data. This ensures that data will be unencrypted during at least part of its life cycle in the cloud.


As of last year, the IEEE conducted a global survey of chief information officers (CIOs) and chief technology officers (CTOs) on what was considered to be the top priority or concern for the business following the pandemic. The survey spanned five geographic regions including Brazil, China, India and the United Kingdom, with responses from 350 CIOs and CTOs. Although the survey outlined a number of key issues, cybersecurity remained a top priority across all regions with 11 percent of respondents claiming it as the biggest challenge to overcome.

Security software is usable if the people who are expected to be using it are made aware of the security tasks they need to perform; are able to figure out how to successfully perform those tasks; do not make dangerous errors and are sufficiently comfortable with the interface to continue using it. This year, it is more crucial than ever for these aspects to be in place and to implement activity-monitoring tools, so threats can be detected before any damage is done.

Kevin Curran, IEEE senior member, professor, security, Ulster University