Trust, security & digital dependence

Habits and behaviour change within weeks. Covid has changed how enterprises and individuals work as they adapt to a rapidly evolving situation. 

As the use of technology-based tools rise, it is important that decisions are based on guiding principles which can aid business leaders and policy makers. 

To help navigate these times, two reports by the World Economic Forum (WEF) aim at shaping the way ahead. The first is Blockchain Bill of Rights which “establishes a global baseline for building blockchain applications that respect participant rights, safeguard data and protect users.”

The principles are built around four pillars of transparency & accessibility; privacy & security; agency & interoperability; and accountability & governance. Broadly, the principles enshrine rules which must preserve the rights of users. 

In the eagerness to develop technology-based solutions for important needs, governments and enterprises tend to neglect the perspective of the user. 

This is all the truer in developing economies like India where hundreds of millions are joining the digital mainstream. For them, just the access to internet and digital services is a great boon. Often, they are not sensitive to issues of transparency, governance and privacy. India’s Aarogya Setu app created by the government for contact tracing has become an important part of the war against Covid-19. The app has over 114 million users already while more will download it as its use spreads across services. 

Faced with criticism over privacy and transparency, the government set a new benchmark by making it an open source app. This is perhaps the first occasion when the Indian government’s digital creation has been made public for co-development. 

Enterprises and government departments have been deploying blockchain in India for a while now. Niti Aayog’s India strategy paper on Blockchain is encouraging and assessing the use of this technology on various fronts. Blockchain is being used in assessment projects involving four streams. These are track and trace of pharmaceutical ingredients; claim and disbursement of fertiliser subsidies; verification of university; and transfer of land records. India’s banks have already deployed blockchain for various internal and consumer-facing functions. 

The WEF’s Block-chain principles on transparency and trust would be important in shaping its use as India warms up to the technology. 

As blockchain and such digital technologies gets deeper into economic activity, cyber security remains the concern area. 

In a technology-enabled post-Covid world, a connected work-life ecosystem will be protection for nearly everyone online. Individuals working from home with weak security could well endanger their organisations. 

The second publication is a set of leadership principles by the WEF’s Centre for Cyber Security. The principles aim to guide organisations in managing risks and vulnerabilities for this era of unprecedented digital dependency. 

“Businesses will have to allocate limited resources wisely and invest in technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and big data to automate mundane cybersecurity processes and minimise the risk of human error,” WEF says. “As hackers are proactive in identifying and exploiting the weakest link in a value chain, a zero-trust approach to securing the supply chain must become the norm.”

An important aspect of cyber security is collaboration between companies, regulators and policy makers.

A cyber attack is no longer about one company or a government department. In today’s world, an attack on one entity can easily escalate to several others even if they do not have a direct connection. Global and domestic value chains include connectivity with customs and internal tax departments. An attack on a single entity within a value chain will spread to government systems as well. Protection can’t be selective anymore. 

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