Cyber Hygiene - Lessons from the Global Health Community

By Aimée Larsen Kirkpatrick

As we watch the spread of Covid-19, the public health analogy for cybersecurity seems especially apropos. The spread of Coronavirus has shocked and traumatized many people around the world. There is underreporting of how many are ill and, a healthy dose of FUD has swirled around as people try to understand how this virus is spreading. Entire cities, first in China and now in South Korea and Italy, along with several cruise ships have been quarantined for lengthy periods of time in attempts to contain the spread of the virus. Major conferences have been canceled and some companies have elected to cancel their participation in others. Feel-good measures have been put in place with gallons of hand sanitizer everywhere you turn.

As individuals and as a society we must remember that practicing basic hygiene is what will see us through. A healthy lifestyle (enough sleep, good nutrition, etc.) and hand washing go a long way towards prevention and resilience. And for the love of all that is sacred, stay home if you feel ill so as not to infect others.

On the upside, the global health community is working together. There is a coordinated global response happening that is likely preventing this disease from taking an epic toll on human life. For that we can be thankful – because the infrastructure, the plans, the relationships, were well-established for this very reason.

With cybersecurity, we should develop and implement a similar model – on a global scale – starting with making basic cyber hygiene the norm. It’s been a topic of conversation that predates my 14 years in the industry. And yet we still struggle with getting individuals and organizations to do the basics to protect themselves – and those they are connected to – from harm. We wring our hands over fear of the big bad foreign adversary yet fail to do basic things like updates and backups. There’s a massive cultural shift that needs to happen where good, basic cybersecurity practices are the norm for individuals, businesses – large and small – and government.

What is it going to take for us to finally achieve this? We need more coordination and leadership at the global level to respond to threats as they take place, but more importantly to build up our resilience, much like good hygiene and vaccinations do for our individual and community health. We’ve certainly seen some of that, but more needs to be done.

We need a commitment and the will to act beyond the platitudes and the myriad of paper tigers efforts. We need to build the coordination and response infrastructure at the global level similar to what has been done in the health community. Not just a means to act quickly in a coordinated fashion, but a means to build global resilience to respond and recover through cyber hygiene and collaboration, among other things.

Who is ready to work with us on this?

The author, Aimée Larsen Kirkpatrick, is the Global Communications Officer at the Global Cyber Alliance. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.