“Government and many companies seem to think time and time again that every investment should pay off in the short term, with visible results. And that is exactly what is impossible when it comes to cybersecurity,” writes Tommy Deblieck of Ostend tech company ZoraBots.
The data of the inhabitants of Antwerp, with or without ransom or negotiations, seems for the moment safe. The inhabitants of Diest, on the other hand, still can’t sleep on their two ears, and above all: what data could be on the street next week? In the aftermath of the cyberattack by the hacker collective Play on the City of Antwerp, we urgently need to ask ourselves a number of questions. About our privacy: what data do we share, what about our fingerprints or photos, and questions about our broader cybersecurity organization.
Because one thing is clear: a decent hacker today can all too easily break into our (government) systems and get away with the digital gold of this era: our personal data. This observation is not new: for years, it has been impossible to guarantee the cybersecurity of our own systems. The reason has been clear for as long: insufficient investment and insufficient valuation. There is a fundamental shortage of investment in people, with the right know-how, skills and hardware: software and infrastructure. Moreover, our own companies that invest in cybersecurity are not valued enough.
Again and again, the rationale, both in government and in many businesses, is that every investment should pay off in the short term with immediately visible results. And that is exactly what is impossible when it comes to cybersecurity. A deflected attack, an unsuccessful hack can save a company or government millions, but usually goes unnoticed. Additionally, companies that invest heavily in security research and development (R&D) are rated negatively. Developing systems through extensive R&D results in negative equity and negative overall company valuation.
(Read more below the article.)
What we need, finally, is a clear choice of long-term investment on the part of the government and investors. Investments in hardware: this means investing in extensive R&D to develop and evolve the right up-to-date software. So that the work can be done on robust systems: systems that have time to grow, to mature. And investments in people: well-trained teams to manage and control software to ensure our cybersecurity. Only then will there be a decent ROI (return on investment): both in terms of capital and thanks to the creation of a strong technology sector in our Belgian economy.
The United States is leading the way: cybersecurity is an absolute must for every system there. It consumes substantial R&D budgets: the long-term robustness of a system is just as important in determining the value of a system or a company as the immediate benefits. But we don’t even have to look that far: a number of innovative tech companies, like ours, ZoraBots, are also taking the “American approach” where safety is a priority. We have been fully committed to this for years: we have made and are making the necessary investments, and today we have robust systems that guarantee security. To continue to do so as an innovative technology company, the software systems developed and the R&D performed must be able to count as capital on the balance sheet. If we do not do this, it should not be surprising that many companies do not follow our example or leave Belgium with all the consequences for our security and our economy.
If the government finally takes the right steps, other companies will also jump on the bandwagon and dare to focus on security and the development of security systems. This will mean – finally – a shift in the investor landscape towards technology. And therein lies the gain for the government, the fundamental’return on investment‘: access to a large, robust and solid arsenal of possible defense mechanisms to ensure the cybersecurity of its citizens and at a fair price.
From the tech world that focuses on cybersecurity, so we are very happy to reach out to the government: let’s choose cybersecurity together. There are premises know how available, use it. Collaborate actively by sharing R&D and realized software systems and including their appreciation.
Because if the Antwerp hack and things related to it teach us one thing, it’s that short-term vision and approach don’t work. We need to put an end to hackers getting too easy access to our fingerprints, personal data and more, today rather than tomorrow. It’s finally time to embrace and appreciate a long-term approach. Only then can we guarantee the safety of our fellow citizens and can we continue to do so in the future through continuous progress.
Tommy Deblieck is co-CEO of ZoraBots, a technology company from Ostend that manufactures humanoid robots.
– Ethical hacker: ‘With a copy of your identity card, criminals can remove you from the population register’
(“Should we trust a government when it proves over and over again that it cannot be trusted?”)
– Sophie in ‘t Veld, Dutch MEP: “Spyware permeates democracy like an insidious poison”
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