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How the next cyber incident may impact you

Entire communities can feel the effects — and bear the costs — when cyber criminals breach a single organization. Here's what each of us can do about it.

An empty shopping cart in the middle of a completely empty aisle in a store.

As our world becomes increasingly digitized and connected, cyber crime has emerged as one of our society’s most serious threats. Criminals continue to refine methods of infiltrating digital networks and deceiving employees at organizations, which can result in businesses being unable to operate, data being stolen and consumers losing services.

Increasingly, the criminals are targeting essential industries and service providers, such as hospitals, energy delivery companies, food suppliers and software companies. The cost to these organizations is immense: Damages related to cyber crime approached $1 trillion in 2020 — a 50% increase since 2018.1

But this estimate does not fully account for costs to consumers, who may experience higher prices, hardship due to loss of essential services and an overall feeling of mistrust when organizations they depend on experience a breach.

It can be difficult to understand the seriousness of cyber crime unless we are directly affected by it. Yet it is important to recognize that as our economy becomes increasingly globalized and interconnected, no one is immune from the impacts of cyber insecurity.

A woman holding an electronic device in front of a man for him to possibly see. Title slide reads, “CYBER CRIME: Potential fallout in six industries.”

Here are some ways you or your community might experience the effects of a cyber incident that targets an organization you depend on for goods, services or safekeeping of your personal information:

A stethoscope and a laptop computer. Text reads, “Health care.”

Essential services can be disrupted, and highly sensitive personally identifiable information (PII) can be stolen.

A man walking through many solar panels. Trees and mountains are in the background. Text reads, “Energy sector companies.”

Electricity and water availability or quality can be compromised, leading to service disruptions.

Two women looking at code on a desktop computer screen. Text reads, “Software providers.”

Compromised business software can result in denial of service or inoperable networks for downstream users.

Two men tending to crops in a field. Text reads, “Food production.

Breaches can lead to production delays that result in higher prices and food shortages.

A subway speeding by. Text reads, “Public sector.”

Cities experiencing cyber incidents may become unable to make payroll, and their essential services could be suspended.

Four students sitting on their laptops. Text reads, “Education.”

Students may be unable to attend digital classes, and their personally identifiable information can be compromised.

Furthermore, every citizen has a stake in supporting a culture of cyber awareness and defense that extends to private businesses, the public sector and our personal lives. The better the threat is understood, the more resources we have to defend against it.

Consumers and citizens often experience residual effects of cyber crime, even if they are far downstream from the initial breach or incident.

All industries, companies and communities are at risk for cyber crime

Cyber incidents involving large companies make headlines for good reasons: These breaches often involve the compromise of millions of customer account details or a demand for millions of dollars in ransom. But criminals are opportunistic and willing to exploit any weakness in any organization’s digital defenses if there is a potential for profit, even (and in some cases especially) when public safety will be compromised. For example, when hospitals are suddenly unable to access their servers, patient records or connected devices, patient health and privacy are at risk.

Cyber crimes that focus on supply chains can create effects that trickle downstream and are experienced by consumers as goods shortages, higher prices or interrupted services. In some cases, affected consumers and businesses may be in completely different countries. During an incident where software used by many businesses is compromised, service interruptions can happen in multiple locations.

Public trust is also at risk

If essential organizations and service providers experience cyber crime, consumers and constituents may experience doubt about those organizations’ security, and they may even become concerned for their own personal safety. The reputational damage that can accompany a serious breach can be severely damaging to almost any institution.

Yet it is important to remember that even the most robust security defenses and most diligent organizations are not immune to cyber crime. Trust is a function of a commitment to cyber security, which includes a high level of transparency, effective communication and rapid remediation after an incident occurs.

As a private citizen, you can demand accountability and responsiveness from institutions and businesses, before and after a cyber incident occurs.

How you can contribute to your community’s cyber security

Consumers and citizens can have an indirect impact on cyber security by prioritizing it. By learning about cyber best practices, we can be more proactive in making sure the organizations where we work, shop and use for delivery of essentials are invested in their own security – and ours.

You can help build a culture of cyber security in several ways:

 

  • Support businesses and organizations that show accountability and dedicate resources to their cyber security practices.
  • Learn about the cyber security protocols of any organization where you work, volunteer or regularly attend events.
  • Follow good cyber hygiene protocols while using your personal online accounts, including social media.
  • Share good cyber practices with your family and friends.

Turning cyber security into a society-wide objective requires proactive buy-in from individual citizens, business and community leaders, educational institutions, and security professionals. Keeping our core institutions and essential businesses safe is an ongoing challenge, but the more you know about digital security and how to respond to cyber incidents, the better prepared your community becomes.

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