Wednesday 29 August 2018 10:08 am

We have a duty to protect the internet, so invest in cybersecurity to safeguard our digital world

Responsible investment is nothing new. However, in recent years we have seen increased attention being placed on ethical frameworks for investment.

The rapid growth in signatories to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment highlights the recognition of the challenges that modern corporates and their investors face.

Challenges such as climate change or a lack of resources that weren’t as pressing or as well understood in the past have recently placed a higher emphasis on sustainability than ever before.

Read more: Ethical Concerns and Your Career

However, while we are all well aware of the need to protect the physical world, the massive growth of our digital lives means that the same care must be paid to protecting ourselves and each other online. This is the new frontier for ethical investment.

Just 11 years ago, only around one per cent of the world had internet access. Today, more than 50 per cent – or 3.5bn people – use the internet, a number that is increasing daily.

The internet has transformed the world and more data has been created and stored over the last decade than in the whole 5,000 years before that.

We’re creating data so fast that our measurement units can’t keep up. Gigabytes are insufficient and we’re now measuring in zettabytes – or one trillion gigabytes at a time. Globally, the number of connected devices is expected to reach more than 20bn.

The digital world is providing huge opportunities, and the democratisation being provided by advances such as cloud computing is making these accessible to all.

But the increased opportunity and amounts of data mean that there is a correspondingly increased risk. Where huge numbers gather, there will always be a dangerous or criminal element that follows.

In the last year, stories about hacks and data breaches have become almost commonplace. We’ve seen viruses like NoPetya and WannaCry devastate entire systems, and major corporations have lost countless thousands of customer records to external hackers or internal mishaps. There have even been accusations of illegal online intervention in democratic elections.

The cyber world can be dangerous.

Just as there are a large number of companies that are promoting sustainability and peace in the physical world, protecting the digital world is a booming business.

There are companies devoted to areas such as data protection and identity management, and they are finding willing investors.

The challenge now is for that investment to be properly understood. It’s not a specialist, niche area of technology; it is impact investment in the proper sense of the term, and should be given its proper place in ethical investment frameworks.

The Global Impact Investing Network, defines impact investment as that which is “made into companies with the intention to generate social and environmental impact alongside a financial return”.

In the case of cyber security, that social and environmental impact is digital rather than tangible, but it is every bit as important as protecting our oceans and forests and combating poverty. This is especially true as our lives become increasingly connected, and more and more of our day-to-day activities are carried out online.

The internet is the first and only truly global commons. It has created arguably the greatest global good, and continues to provide opportunities for everyone, from businesses of all sizes to consumers, governments, and individuals. Today, it is almost impossible to imagine a world without the internet.

It’s important that the new world we have created and live in receives the same attention and investment into protecting it as the physical world we inherited.

Read more: What you need to know about impact investing