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Development Work Demands An Improved Cybersecurity Focus

By: Humza Agha

Having worked with development institutions for many years, I can honestly say that one of the biggest challenges facing developing countries is the lack of adequate cyber infrastructure.

While there has been a growing recognition of the importance of cybersecurity in development work, this has not always translated into concrete action on the ground. In part, this is because many decision-makers still see cybersecurity as an IT issue, rather than a development issue. This needs to change.

In its 2020 report the Global Cybersecurity Index shows overall improvement and strengthening of the cybersecurity agenda However, nearly 60 percent of the least developed countries (LDCs) still do not have clear strategies in addressing the gaps. Development institutions can help provide the training and incentives for cybersecurity capacity development, and encourage cooperation and partnership-building at a micro and macro levels.

There are three key areas where improved cybersecurity focus is needed in development work:

1) Coordinated national cyber policies and regulations: In many developing countries, there is still no clear policy framework for dealing with cybersecurity threats. This makes it very difficult for businesses and other organizations to know what is expected of them in terms of security compliance. It also creates a fertile environment for cybercriminals, who can operate with impunity.

Here are just some of the areas that need to be addressed in any national cybersecurity policy:

  • Defining what constitutes a cyberattack and the associated consequences

  • Developing a plan for responding to and recovering from a cyberattack

  • Creating guidelines for businesses and organizations to protect themselves from attack

  • Putting in place measures to prevent attacks from happening in the first place

Many developed countries have had to grapple with how to best protect their own critical infrastructure and data, and are still working out the kinks. As a result, there is a lot of helpful information and expertise that can be shared with developing nations.

2) Improved cybersecurity awareness and capacity building, which begins with incorporating cybersecurity considerations into development programming and project design. Donor countries can play a role in supporting developing countries in building their capacities for cybersecurity. This includes providing financial and technical assistance.

The Cybersecurity Multi-Donor Trust Fund launched by the World Bank last year began to address that issue. More than a source of financing for cybersecurity issues, it aims to facilitate knowledge sharing, build capacity and technical skills, and ensure that cybersecurity issues are integrated into World Bank programs in the developing world.

3) Public-private partnerships: The cyber domain is constantly evolving, making it difficult for any one organization to keep up with the latest threats and vulnerabilities. Public-private partnerships can help bridge the gap between the technical expertise of the private sector and the policymaking abilities of the public sector. They can also provide a mechanism for sharing information and best practices around critical infrastructure protection, data breach notification and incident response, while mobilizing resources to combat cyber crime. There are many benefits of PPPs, but they must be structured carefully in order to create real value.

There is no silver bullet when it comes to cybersecurity, and development organizations need to take a holistic and coordinated approach to address the issue. By taking steps to improve national policies and regulations, raise awareness and capacity, and foster public-private partnerships, we can start to make headway on this critical challenge.

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