Today's innovation entrepreneurs in Latin America must create stronger online protection rather than a complicated façade of security.
BY TOM HELOU
In today's 21st century business climate, information is the currency that smoothly propels commerce forward. Each day, businesses in Latin America rely on the thousands of messages transported through their internal networks and the Internet's channels, constructing a cyber-infrastructure so encompassing that few entrepreneurs and business leaders can subsist without it. As the world of electronic connectivity weaves an intricate, digitalized web, the infrastructures created to protect our networked data must evolve as well.
Today, a simple username and password typically stands as a feeble barrier between the outside world and personal accounts - an access point that often holds the key to the entire system. As such, even the smallest fissure allows cybercriminals to seep through, infiltrating the system and obtaining large quantities of sensitive data that in effect compromise our identities, businesses, and overall security.
Today's ailing economy introduces new opportunities for online criminals. A technology research firm, IronPort, recently observed that an IT graduate may be able to legally earn $400 per month in Romania; however, that same individual could profit several thousand per month in the cybercrime economy. Often, the pay between a security developer and a security exploiter differs by a factor of 10. As a result, this underworld has grown to a $105 billion industry.
The economics of cybersecurity for Latin America's businesses is starkly different. As much of the area adapts and innovates to the rapidly evolving IT universe, unforeseen costs can cloud profit forecasts. Data theft, malware, network vulnerabilities, spam, phishing, maintenance costs, and more must now be calculated into every company's cost of doing business - an expense that swelled to over $1 trillion globally in 2008.
Specifically, malware attacks cost the global economy $13.2 billion in direct damages in 2006. When indirect expenses were included, the number jumped to $67.2 billion, according to a 2008 study conducted by the International Telecommunication Union. Spam is another pricey expense, tallying over $100 billion globally. Click fraud cost another $1 billion. And with such high costs, the globe's corporations are receiving little return on their security investments.
Despite attempts at security, the typical firewall-protected business still encounters approximately 300 network attacks annually - some experiencing in excess of 1,200 attacks, according to a recent IDC Multimedia white paper. The study's IT respondents explained the financial loss due to data breaches was equivalent to 75 percent of their costs for operating a firewall. The study continued by explaining the rules to operate these firewalls were far too complex, as some rule sets numbered in the tens of thousands.
Even when firewall administrators effectively implement the numerous operational rules, individual error opens a business's door for exploitation. Often that weak, end-user link is found at the login portal - the username and password.
To be secure, computer giant Microsoft recommends a password must include more than 14 characters that incorporate the use of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Further, the secret login data must not be significant to the user (or relate to any information they post on Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and cannot be recorded electronically or physically. In addition, it should be changed every three to six months. When considering the average person has approximately 30 accounts that are accessed with a username and password, the probability of following such instructions for each account is unlikely at best.
All too often, solutions revolve around the complexity of breaches. However, abstract passwords and complicated firewalls will not halt the ever-advancing cybercriminals. Instead of regressing to the security fallacies of the past, today's innovation entrepreneurs in Latin America must create stronger online protection rather than a complicated façade of security. As such, next-generation electronic identification must be dynamic and multidimensional, utilizing numerous facets beyond the traditional means of access - strengthening protection rather than complicating it.
Much of this global movement towards stronger security and technological innovation is happening in Latin America. In countries such as Brazil and Argentina, developers have capitalized on the creation of information societies where academia and business can grow alongside each other.
For example, the City of Buenos Aires under Mayor Mauricio Macri has dedicated an entire section of the city to technology. Through this new "Innovation Quarter," the city utilizes academic resources to meet business needs and corporate opportunities to frame practical, scholastic activity. As a result, the city has drawn interest from global citizens Blackberry, Tata, Apple, and more while producing quality jobs and advanced training for the municipality's citizens. With such agreements, the city's offerings plug into the flow of commerce in the United States, India, and beyond. And as more IT companies flow into the region, Latin America is offered an opportunity to coalesce with the globe's most developed nations and continue to establish a long-term, sustainable economy.
Where the security vulnerabilities of current paradigms exist, today's newly innovated, multidimensional programs leap the hurdles, allowing businesses to act now, rather than in the aftermath. In this cyberworld, our future truly pushes the present to formulate advanced solutions, developing Latin American economies and simultaneously propelling all international commerce forward.
Tom Helou is President and Chief Operating Officer of Authenware.