By Jamie Ridenhour

We hear the word cybersecurity a lot lately and with good reason. The number of threats to internet connected devices has grown right along with the enormous growth in the number of devices themselves. Cybersecurity is the only thing keeping this trend from becoming even worse. Cybersecurity is focused on the preservation of the availability, confidentiality, and integrity of the information that passes through this vast interconnected web that is so valuable to society.

Some of the costs associated with cybercrime are easy to quantify, while others are not.  In either case, it is important to understand that the impact is not limited to individuals or corporations but has negative effects on society as a whole.  Both monetary and less quantifiable costs need to be considered to understand the importance of cybersecurity in today’s society.

Expenses resulting from cybercrime have grown exponentially in the past decade.  Damages are expected to cost the world economy more than $6 trillion in 2021, up from $3 trillion in 2015. They will likely reach $10.5 trillion in 2025. To put those numbers in perspective, that’s more than the global trade of all illegal drugs combined and much larger than the annual cost incurred from natural disasters.

It is more difficult to put a price on the indirect damage cybercrime can inflict on the health of citizens.  Ransomware attacks on hospitals, 911 systems, and first responders is an area that the FBI is particularly concerned about.  These attacks occur when malicious persons or entities breach computer systems and essentially hold data and systems hostage.

Healthcare infrastructure is critical and has proven to be a prime target for cybercriminals. The need to access records and computer systems creates an urgency that makes healthcare providers more likely to acquiesce to ransomware demands and resolve the issue as quickly as possible. Cybercriminals know this and calculate better chances for a payoff when attacking this sector.

The risks of data loss are high when public health is involved. A 2017 ransomware attack on the U.K.’s National Health Service resulted in delayed emergency response and surgeries having to be rescheduled. 2020 marked a grim milestone when a German woman’s death was directly attributed to service delays resulting from an attack.

Local governments have also proven vulnerable to ransomware attacks. During the past two years, 177 attacks on municipalities were reported in the U.S., and it is assumed that many more went unreported. 22 towns in Texas were simultaneously targeted in 2019 and residents experienced the frustration of not being able to access records or pay bills while the situation unfolded. By 2021, 39 states have reported at least one ransomware attack. The inconvenience may be short lived, but the erosion of trust is lasting.

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is an important area of information technology that both needs to be protected and is a significant source of vulnerability. Internet connected devices have become pervasive in our daily lives. From voice assistants that help us manage our days to smart home devices that control our lights and thermostat, connected devices are becoming an integral part of our daily lives. Unfortunately, the same interconnectivity that makes the IoT so useful also can make it vulnerable to those with ill intent. Attacks on these systems may also be looked at as simply an inconvenience, but they have a very real effect on society’s confidence in technology.

Public confidence also comes into play when it comes to the impact of cybercrime on businesses. A quarter of customers say they would stop dealing with a brand that experienced a breach, and the repercussions for businesses are enormous. One study calculated that up to 60% of small-to-midsize businesses go out of business within six months of falling victim to a data breach.  Larger companies like Ebay, Equifax and LinkedIn may not have gone under as a result of data breaches but their reputation certainly suffered. Again, the result is loss of confidence and a negative public opinion that may take years to overcome.

Data breaches produce such a negative reaction due to the stress involved with the loss of privacy. Individually, people are often left depressed, embarrassed, and confused after falling victim to cybercrime. The realization that personal information is no longer private can have quite a harmful effect on the psyche.

There are negative psychological impacts resulting from combating cybercrime, as well.  Employees may become frustrated at the limitations that are put on them, including limited access to some websites, restrictions on data storage and cumbersome login procedures. These safeguards are extremely necessary to prevent data loss but may just seem bothersome to an average worker just trying to get a job done. Training on understanding and working with your employees to have processes that improve security but also balance use is key.

To combat the threat of cybercrime cybersecurity systems are evolving rapidly. A successful cybersecurity program has layers of protection spread across networks, servers, computers, and applications. Firewalls, DNS filtering, antivirus, and malware protection software are some of the most effective defenses against cybercrime.  Artificial Intelligence is now being utilized to help detect intrusions more rapidly.

Human intelligence can be an even more important component in the battle against cybercrime . Up to 95% of data breaches are due to human error. As we discussed in Practical Tips for Cybersecurity, there are several things the users can do to make themselves less vulnerable to an attack. When individuals are less vulnerable, organizations are too.

We hope this article has provided some thought-provoking information on the overall impact of cybercrime. More importantly, we hope it gives some added incentive for users to better protect themselves and for organizations to help educate their employees regarding safe habits.