March 2019

Digitalisation opens up many possibilities throughout the economy, but also opens businesses up to new threats. Those in the professional services sector must be aware of the many avenues of attack that online operations allow. The most common of these include:

> Phishing - where emails or websites are used to trick people into giving bank account information or even money to the perpetrators
> Denial of Service attacks - where the aim is to overwhelm a system’s resources so that it cannot respond to service requests, affecting the business’s ability to perform
> Malware - that attacks security vulnerabilities to steal data.

These attacks are harmful to all businesses – but especially so in accounting, where safety of client data is paramount.

Data breach costs associated with cyber crime are expected to reach over 2 trillion dollars by this year, making it essential for Australian businesses to have a strong cyber security team to protect against such attacks.

However, while threats increases by the day, businesses are struggling to fill the demand for jobs, with a predicted 100,000 more jobs expected to be needed by 2023.

One reason for this gap is the relative shortage of women in the field. While Australia’s cyber security professionals are just 25% female, this figure is actually above the global average of 20%. Neither of these figures are high enough to fill the gap, leaving businesses with a shortage of skilled team members in this area. Addressing this imbalance will allow businesses to better protect themselves from cybersecurity issues – or, what IBM’s CEO calls “the greatest threat to every profession, every industry, every company in the world.”

This finding is reflected in a report from Cybersecurity Ventures that concludes: “The gender gap is not closing quickly enough to meet the shortfall crisis of cybersecurity professionals.”

Several large organisations, including major banks, have backed initiatives giving high school students cyber challenges to help shift the balance. ANZ’s CISO Lynwen Connick said that the effort was intended to help “alter the perception of technology stereotypes among young females.” However, according to an ISACA survey, these efforts seem to be on the decline, despite a shortage in which 58% of the organisations in the same survey reported unfilled cyber security positions.

In addition to helping organisations fill important gaps in quantity, the promotion of diversity could also provide qualitative advantages. Diverse teams tend to take more varied approaches to problems, and show greater resilience and better decision-making.

There is no single measure available that will completely protect businesses from cyber attacks. The variety and speed of attacks will require several methods to maintain a solid defence; but for this very reason, a diversity of thought within cybersecurity efforts will be an added advantage.

Moreover, Mailguard’s CEO Craig McDonald thinks “it’s important for infosec teams, in particular, to be diverse. This is mainly due to the increasing ambiguity around the nature of contemporary cyber threats. Cybercrime in itself is diverse now and rapidly evolving,” McDonald also added.

These are the kind of concerns, threats, and opportunities Australian accounting firms need to keep in mind when digitalising. If they are to build a sustainable digital future, they need to protect themselves against every growing threat. A strong security team, with diverse sets of skills, may be our best chance to meet the challenges of the months and years ahead.  

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