The "Tipping Point"

August 13, 2012

Despite ample press coverage of massive, costly attacks despite all the warnings from experts many corporate leaders fail to fully appreciate the risk of IT security breaches and attacks.  Executives who otherwise fiercely protect their assets and market position are seemingly willing to leave them vulnerable to a cyber-attack.

Why?  Because they have little visibility to the changes that have been taking place in their IT environments.  They fail to see that we have reached a tipping point in the cyber security battle.

Today, I'd like to explore why that is, what it means for companies and society as a whole, and what's needed to put us back on a strong footing.

This is a story about perception and reality.

In times of rapid change, reality and perception often get out of synch with each other.

That's because life doesn't proceed in calibrated steps.  Change happens in fits and starts.  Milestones don't always announce themselves.  Things that are obvious in hindsight are rarely as clear when we experience them in real time.

Until you reach a tipping point.  That's when perception and reality are thrown back into alignment.  Usually with a jolt.

Until recently, corporations have tended to address cyber security concerns in a reactive manner. Someone in the IT department hears about a new virus or vulnerability, downloads and installs the latest patch, and they're done.  We go back to business as usual until the next time.

That's no longer an effective strategy.  At some point, you have to take a different approach.  And when you do, the results can be both amazing and far-reaching.

The Great Fire of London is a perfect example.  When it struck in 1666, it devastated the city.  Out of a population of 80,000, more than 70,000 people were left homeless.  Over 13,000 dwellings and 89 churches were destroyed.

It wasn't the first big fire in London's history.  Over the centuries, London had burned to the ground at least 17 times before.  But until 1666, people didn't do much more than keep buckets and water handy.  Fire was a persistent threat, but one that people simply accepted as part of life.  To paraphrase a bumper sticker, their attitude was “fire happens.”

But the Great Fire of 1666 changed that.  It galvanized the community.  A tipping point had been reached.  Suddenly, concerned citizens became convinced that fire itself must be controlled.

In its wake, new laws were passed.  More stringent building regulations were established.  And within a year, the world's first property insurance company was founded.  Soon, it was joined by other insurance companies, each with its own professional fire brigade to protect the homes of its clients.

Almost overnight, everything changed.  The Great Fire of London led to: the creation of the insurance industry, the development of new fire prevention technologies, the establishment of building codes, and the genesis of professional firefighting.  There were still fires, of course, but they were fewer, smaller, and less damaging.  Life in densely-populated cities is infinitely safer from fire today.

That's because a tipping point had been reached, and society was forced to look at fire in a new way.  That new perspective enabled us to develop new innovations to prevent and fight fire.  Once that happened, there was no going back to the old ways.

That's the situation we find ourselves in today with cybercrime.  The tipping point has been reached.  The news just hasn't reached the boardroom yet.

Mark Hatton, President, CEO

  • Executive Desk

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