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New Zealand needs a cultural shift to keep data safe

NZ Security, Dec 2016 / Jan 2017

Does New Zealand need a data security-focussed cultural change?Does New Zealand need a data security-focussed cultural change?


November 10th saw the staging of Massey University’s Future NZ Forum on Cybersecurity, held at Auckland’s Aotea Centre. NZ Security was there to hear from Dr Andrew Colarik, a cybersecurity expert with the university’s Centre for Defence and Security Studies.


New Zealanders need to better understand the risks of prioritising user features over security when it comes to the many internet-connected devices we use. That’s the message Massey University senior lecturer Dr Andrew Colarik wants NZ businesses to understand.

Dr Colarik warned that New Zealand hasn’t invested heavily enough in infrastructure to make the country resilient against denial-of-service attacks, or to keep data safe. The problem, he says, is the infrastructure we have built is scaled for New Zealand’s population, but that same infrastructure connects us to the rest of the world.

“Everything we do in this country is now so dependent on the free flow of information and the connections that we maintain. Any disruption to that will have huge, cascading effects,” he said.

“A large denial-of-service attack could shut down communications to the whole country quite easily. If targeted for competitive or political reasons, there are very few organisations that would be resilient to that sort of attack.”

He pointed out that both individuals and organisations need to understand that communications infrastucture, by its nature, is not secure. “There are only measures of security,” he said. “The notion that the internet is secure is just salesmanship.”

He asked how many of us really think about the access we give to our information when we download an app or a game. “Pokemon Go! has the right to take all your pictures, all your contacts, basically everything on your phone and send it to the mother company”, he commented. “The company that owns it, their net worth increased by billions – how is that possible if the data isn’t worth something?”

In this digital landscape, New Zealand’s economic livelihood faces real threats, Dr Colarik warned. New competitors are emerging all the time – and some will have the know-how and motivation to extract information for competitive advantage.

“What happens when an organisation’s own information is used against it? Customer details, costing and pricing structures, and other intellectual properties are all there for the taking if not properly protected.”

It’s a national security problem that, Dr Colarik argued, is more than just the government’s responsibility to address.

“Sure, more investment in infrastructure is helpful, but what we really need is a cultural shift to strike the right balance between user features and security, and data useage and privacy. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

“This needs to be done at a whole-of-society level. We all need to take responsibility for the level to which we share our personal data, and we need more education and greater discussion about who owns and controls our information. A genuine public/private partnership is essential for ensuring everyone’s prosperity in our digital future.”

After his speech Dr Colarik was joined by a panel of industry experts to discuss the strategic cybersecurity issues facing New Zealand. They also acknowledged there was a lack of capability in New Zealand for dealing with cybersecurity issues, but also identified it as an opportunity for the future.

Panelist Kendra Ross, director and co-founder of Duo, pointed to the enormous potential in New Zealand’s human capital. “There is a global skills shortage – 1.5 million cybersecurity roles currently unfilled globally,” Ms Ross said. “We have an ability here to actually build a workforce that we could be exporting in terms of skills and resource capability.”

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