A new report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) stated that the adoption of connected devices during the pandemic led to a dramatic increase in cyberattacks, and “if left unchecked, the cost of cyberattacks will continue to rise, threatening a fragile global economy”.
Titled The State of the Connected World 2023, the report is a collaboration between WEF with the Council on the Connected World and is described in a press statement as the only global report that tracks and quantifies governance gaps for the universe of connected devices, known as the Internet of things (IoT).
Launched at the WEF Annual Meeting 2023, the report surveyed 270 experts around the world to understand the state of play and establish clear priorities for technology governance.
According to the report, “As the world begins to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, technological advances, such as the IoT and related technologies, have offered an exceptional opportunity to help build a more prosperous and sustainable future. The pandemic has emphasised the importance of IoT and related technologies in people’s lives and work; from contact tracing to wearable devices, these technologies provide critical data to curb the spread of the virus, saving lives and allowing businesses and governments to continue operating. As dependence on connected devices and networks continues to grow, however, so do risks and governance challenges in areas such as security, privacy, sustainability, interoperability and equity.”
The report aims “to examine the current state of governance gaps on IoT and related technologies, establishing a clear priority for action for businesses and government leaders to address risks and maximise benefits”.
Six findings are put forward in the study, one which is that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the face of IoT and related technologies using new cases and applications, bolstering demand in areas such as health, manufacturing and consumer IoT.
Secondly, it highlights that the increase in innovation of IoT devices and related technologies presents plenty of benefits to society, governments and businesses, but the lack of confidence in areas including privacy and security may stifle progress.
A third finding is that rapid advances of IoT technology have challenged the ability to regulate industries and implement industry standards. “The survey conducted points towards ethical and responsible use as the area with the largest perceived governance gap.”
Fourthly, the report noted that the pandemic shed light on user data vulnerabilities, leading users to prioritise privacy and security when using IoT devices and applications. “In turn, governments and businesses have had to respond with regulations and updates to systems and devices to build justified user trust.”
Another finding is that the second-largest perceived governance gap is in cybersecurity. As the report explained, “Growing reliance on connected devices and related technologies have made organisations, governments and individual users increasingly susceptible to cyberthreats, making the ability of connected devices and related technologies to protect individuals from cyberattacks a leading concern.”
The sixth finding is that the survey respondents indicated that equal access to technology and its benefits is another area that needs to be prioritised. “Technological advances have shown potential to improve societal welfare through a plethora of applications in various fields. Barriers in infrastructure, economics, expertise and inclusivity, however, still hinder the ability of all members of society to fully benefit from these advances.”
The report shares that in response to the findings, the WEF highlights the primary areas of opportunity for collective action from businesses and governments, especially those pertaining to ethics, security and accessibility.
In addition, by establishing the principal areas of perceived governance gaps, the report “urges businesses and governments to develop and implement better privacy and security practices to protect individuals, as well as to build their trust and develop practices that seek to create a more inclusive and accessible IoT and related technologies.”
“These actions address systems challenges and require the commitment and efforts of the wide slate of stakeholders and experts in the public and private sectors, academia and civil society.”
Head of Urban Transformation at the WEF Jeff Merritt said, “At a time when the global economy is fragile, we have the necessary tools to reduce at least one of the major threats to the global economy – cyberattacks.
“The State of the Connected World report is a call to action for protecting against cybercrimes, which would also improve individual security and protect small and medium-sized business, transit systems, utilities – everything that relies on connected devices.”
Meanwhile, Head of Industry and Partnerships at the Centre for Cybersecurity of the WEF Akshay Joshi said, “Our increasingly connected existence brings with it vulnerabilities that can be exploited by malicious actors.
“Despite calls for embedding cybersecurity by design, the low level of confidence in the security of connected devices expressed by experts in this report is a testament to the fact that we still have a long way to go in terms of realising trust in the technology we use.”