In 2011 the UN General Assembly passed a non-binding resolution that declared “internet access a human right.” While this declaration inspired headlines worldwide, it did not address governmental responsibility in providing access to all. Rather, it focused on stopping governments from “taking away” access. The difference between the two meanings has become stark in the wake of COVID.
Half the planet does not have sufficient access to the internet, even as the need for its access has never been greater. According to the Guardian, this digital divide is greatest across developing countries such as in Africa, where only one in four people can access the web and the benefits that so many of us take for granted. In many cases, women in the developing world are excluded, with men 21% more likely to have online access – rising to 52% in the world’s least developed countries.
COVID-19 has once again highlighted the needs and challenges of gaining access to the internet. As the world moves beyond 2020 and the pandemic, we must work to ensure that everyone worldwide has access to and benefits of the internet.
It comes as a shock to many that access to the internet is limited even in developed countries. In the United States for instance, the inventor of the internet, there are an estimated 12 million children who live in homes without broadband connectivity. These inequalities fall along the familiar lines of wealth, race, and rural vs. urban divides.
The inequalities have worsened during the pandemic due to stay at home orders for students and parents. If families do not have access to the internet, parents do not have the option to work from home, and students cannot attend school. COVID-19 has forced a greater sense of dependence on the internet than ever before. A new Pew Research Center survey conducted in early April finds that 53% of U.S. adults say the internet has been essential for them personally during the pandemic, with another 34% describe it as “important, but not essential.
However, good news exists. Federal and state governments are focusing on deploying broadband as universally as possible. According to NCSL, in the 2020 legislative session, 43 states and Guam addressed broadband in issue areas such as educational institutions and schools, dig once, funding, governance authorities and commissions, infrastructure, municipal-run broadband networks, rural and underserved communities, smart communities, and taxes. Thirty-three states enacted legislation or adopted resolutions, with the hope that the remaining states will also follow soon.
With millions of people’s livelihoods dependent on the internet in ways like never before, security threats have become more apparent. Cybercrime has become even more prevalent during the pandemic, with individuals, corporations, and even hospitals getting attacked. According to The Hill, an attack on the Pennsylvania-based hospital chain Universal Health Services (UHS) temporarily disabled systems in hundreds of hospitals in the U.S., potentially delaying treatment and possibly exposing millions of customers’ data.
Marc Rogers, executive director of cybersecurity at software group Okta, explains that “hackers have targeted governmental organizations such as the World Health Organization and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as well as specific hospital chains. Other state-sponsored attacks backed by Russia, China, and Iran have gone after groups involved in COVID-19 research.”
The pandemic has also resulted in more and more organizations, schools, universities, etc., shifting towards a remote, work-from-home mode of operation. This shift has elevated the importance of appropriate cybersecurity measures and strategies. For example, ensuring that workers, students, etc., have laptops, mobile devices, shared devices at home that have technology set up correctly can connect to the organizational networks and ensure that it is secure.
With dependence on the internet continuing to rise, and access to sensitive information and critical systems under threat, there is a growing need to do more to defend against these types of attacks.
One of the approaches has been the shift away from a perimeter-based security model where all assets inside a network are trusted. Instead of these system-centric security models, companies have shifted more and more towards adopting zero-trust architectures by protecting access to information and emphasizing identity as part of trust - individuals, devices, and applications cannot be trusted by default and need to be authenticated and authorized.
Integral to the success of these security efforts has been deploying technologies and solutions that are effective and quick to adopt, such as those hosted in the cloud. The benefit being that secure-edge, cloud-based data leakage prevention, and threat-protection controls can help safeguard an organization’s critical assets.
The onus of preventing cybercrime is not just on the organizations;we all need to be cognizant of and do our part as well. A few tips to help enhance cybersecurity, especially for the remote environment, are:
With promise and peril going hand in hand, the world must adapt to our new digital reality. Access to broadband must be viewed as a human right just as other services such as healthcare and education. Cybersecurity must be built into all platforms and no longer viewed as an inconvenient afterthought. By embracing the difficult lessons learning from the pandemic, the world can emerge with greater opportunities than ever imagined.