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A well-executed hybrid cloud model, along with modernized technology through AI and encryption, are key to helping mitigate security risks

There are dollars in data, which most organizations know, as their operations become increasingly digitized and accessible almost anywhere from the cloud.

And in today’s competitive environment, where data is used to achieve advantage, there is a growing urgency for organizations to adopt more rigorous standards for the use and protection of information collected.

An organization’s best response is to develop stronger tech policies and stricter cybersecurity measures, says Dhruva Suthar, director of security software and services at IBM Canada.

“Data is an organization’s most important asset and its competitive advantage, so securing it is critical,” she says.

Ms. Suthar says technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced encryption are critical to protecting data — and the time to invest in them is now as cybersecurity threats continue to rise.

The benefits of robust cybersecurity measures

According to a recent study by IBM, the cost of a data breach in Canada is at an all-time high: Companies lost an average of $6.75-million with each attack from May 2020 to March 2021, a 20-per-cent increase over the year-earlier period.

Dhruva Suthar, director of security software and services at IBM CanadaSupplied

Security incidents are now costlier and more difficult to contain due in part to drastic operational shifts amid pandemic, Ms. Suthar says. As businesses were forced to quickly adapt their technology approaches from remote work to cloud migration, security appears to have lagged, hindering their ability to respond to data breaches.

The greatest vulnerabilities were created by remote workers, as many organizations’ security platforms weren’t prepared to support the rapid shift to remote work at the onset of the pandemic, she adds.

Ms. Suthar believes the lack of investment in security to support a hybrid model will continue to pose risks as many organizations have moved to ongoing hybrid models with it continuing alongside work on-site.

It’s not just money at stake, she says. “Breaches hurt organizations’ productivity and reputation, negatively affecting clients, employees and the public.”

Still, the IBM report also has some good news: Organizations further along in their digital transformation were generally less affected. The average data breach cost was less, or $5.38-million versus $8.25-million for organizations without advanced protections.

Ms. Suthar says “zero-trust” deployment is cybersecurity’s gold standard, which includes advanced encryption, AI and analytics continuous network monitoring.

“It’s based on the philosophy that you don’t trust anybody or anything in your digital environment, so you’re constantly verifying identities and assuming the network is breached,” she says.

Organizations often detect and investigate breaches more quickly while automating a faster response stopping the attack, and even preventing it.

“That saves money because the longer bad actors sit in the IT environment, the more damage they do and data they steal, increasing costs,” she says.

Building trust in technology as the digital economy expands

Cybersecurity is only one facet of the data economy. More broadly, AI and data analytics are increasingly useful tools public and private sector organizations must adopt to keep up with the rapid pace of digitalization, says Pavel Abdur-Rahman, partner and head of trusted data and AI at IBM Canada.

Pavel Abdur-Rahman, partner and head of trusted data and AI at IBM CanadaSupplied

“The digital transformation is inevitable,” Mr. Abdur-Rahman says.

The impact is already substantial: A Statistics Canada report from 2019 shows the data economy grew 400 per cent between 2005 and 2018 to $218-billion, akin to the value of Canada’s crude oil reserves, Mr. Abdur-Rahman notes.

“But we need more AI innovation to build the data economy into a trillion-dollar industry in the next decade,” he adds.

Leaders in this space, IBM included, also recognize that AI’s benefits must be balanced with regulation, which is largely absent in Canada and globally.

Mr. Abdur-Rahman points to IBM’s recent efforts, providing input to the European Union to finalize a global framework to harmonize rules on AI. Canada is following suit, though a few years behind, he says.

Central to any new guidelines should be the notion of ‘precision regulation,’ where governments act together to strengthen consumer privacy and increase trust in technology, while preserving innovation and growth that comes with the digital economy.

Still, IBM believes the principal responsibility for protecting consumer data should be placed first and foremost on organizations that collect or handle it.

Organizations need to build and continuously earn the confidence and trust of their users by ensuring they have the right protections in place, Mr. Abdur-Rahman says.

“Trust is paramount,” he says. “If there is no trust, there is no data economy because everyone starts to opt-out from frameworks they don’t trust.”

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with IBM. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.